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J Biol Chem. 2006 Jul 14;281(28):19107-14. Epub 2006 May 10.

Site-specific phosphorylation and caspase cleavage differentially impact tau-microtubule interactions and tau aggregation.

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  • 1Department of Psychiatry, University of Alabama, Birmingham, Alabama 35294-0017, USA.


The microtubule-associated protein tau is hyperphosphorylated and forms neurofibrillary tangles in Alzheimer disease. Additionally caspase-cleaved tau is present in Alzheimer disease brains co-localized with fibrillar tau pathologies. To further understand the role of site-specific phosphorylation and caspase cleavage of tau in regulating its function, constructs of full-length tau (T4) or tau truncated at Asp421 (T4C3) to mimic caspase-3 cleavage with and without site-directed mutations that mimic phosphorylation at Thr231/Ser235, Ser396/Ser404, or at all four sites (Thr231/Ser235/Ser396/Ser404) were made and expressed in cells. Pseudophosphorylation of T4, but not T4C3, at either Thr231/Ser235 or Ser396/Ser404 increased its phosphorylation at Ser262 and Ser199. Pseudophosphorylation at Thr231/Ser235 impaired the microtubule binding of both T4 and T4C3. In contrast, pseudophosphorylation at Ser396/Ser404 only affected microtubule binding of T4C3 but did make T4 less soluble and more aggregated, which is consistent with the previous finding (Abraha, A., Ghoshal, N., Gamblin, T. C., Cryns, V., Berry, R. W., Kuret, J., and Binder, L. I. (2000) J. Cell Sci. 113, 3737-3745) that pseudophosphorylation at Ser396/Ser404 enhances tau polymerization in vitro. In situ T4C3 was more prevalent in the cytoskeletal and microtubule-associated fractions compared with T4, whereas purified recombinant T4 bound microtubules with higher affinity than did T4C3 in an in vitro assay. These data indicate the importance of cellular factors in regulating tau-microtubule interactions and that, in the cells, phosphorylation of T4 might impair its microtubule binding ability more than caspase cleavage. Treatment of cells with nocodazole revealed that pseudophosphorylation of T4 at both Thr231/Ser235 and Ser396/Ser404 diminished the ability of tau to protect against microtubule depolymerization, whereas with T4C3 only pseudophosphorylation at Ser396/Ser404 attenuated the ability of tau to stabilize the microtubules. These results show that site-specific phosphorylation and caspase cleavage of tau differentially affect the ability of tau to bind and stabilize microtubules and facilitate tau self-association.

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