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Biochemistry. 2005 Oct 25;44(42):13997-4009.

Site-specific nitration differentially influences tau assembly in vitro.

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Department of Cell and Molecular Biology and Cognitive Neurology and Alzheimer's Disease Center, Feinberg School of Medicine, Northwestern University, Chicago, Illinois 60611, USA.


Previously, we reported that the microtubule-associated tau protein, the major constituent of neurofibrillary tangles (NFTs) in Alzheimer's brain, undergoes site-selective nitration by peroxynitrite (ONOO-) and that this event inhibits tau polymerization in vitro [Reynolds et al. (2005) Biochemistry 44, 1690-1700]. In the present study, we extend our analysis of tau nitration to include mutant tau proteins singly nitrated at each residue targeted by ONOO- in vitro (Tyr18, Tyr29, Tyr197, and Tyr394). Using our polymerization paradigm, we demonstrate that site-specific Tyr nitration differentially alters the rate and/or extent of tau assembly and generates robust changes in filament morphology. As determined by quantitative electron microscopy, select nitration of residues Tyr29 and Tyr197 increases the average length of synthetic tau filaments but does not alter the steady-state polymer mass. In contrast, site-specific nitration of residues Tyr18 and Tyr394 decreases the average length and/or number of synthetic filaments, resulting in a significant reduction in filamentous mass and an increase in tau critical concentration. Intriguingly, affinity measurements demonstrate that nitrative modifications do not preclude formation of the Alz-50 epitope, a pathological tau conformation detectable in authentic paired helical filaments (PHFtau). In fact, the Alz-50 antibody binds filaments assembled from nitrated mutant tau with higher avidity than wild-type filaments, even in instances where the overall filamentous mass is reduced. Taken together, our results suggest that site-specific nitration modulates the nucleation and/or elongation capacity of assembly-competent tau and that assumption of the Alz-50 conformation may be necessary, but not sufficient, to induce filament formation.

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