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J Biol Chem. 1997 Nov 7;272(45):28328-34.

Phosphorylation by neuronal cdc2-like protein kinase promotes dimerization of Tau protein in vitro.

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Bloomfield Center for Research in Aging, Lady Davis Institute for Medical Research, Sir Mortimer B. Davis-Jewish General Hospital and Department of Neurology and Neurosurgery, McGill University, Montreal, Quebec, H3T 1E2, Canada. MDHP@MUSICA.McGILL.CA


In Alzheimer's disease, the microtubule-associated protein tau forms paired helical filaments (PHFs) that are the major structural component of neurofibrillary tangles. Although tau isolated from PHFs (PHF-tau) is abnormally phosphorylated, the role of this abnormal phosphorylation in PHF assembly is not known. Previously, neuronal cdc2-like protein kinase (NCLK) was shown to phosphorylate tau on sites that are abnormally phosphorylated in PHF-tau (Paudel, H. K., Lew, J., Ali, Z., and Wang, J. H. (1993) J. Biol. Chem. 268, 23512-23518). In this study, phosphorylation by NCLK was found to promote dimerization of recombinant human tau (R-tau) and brain tau (B-tau) purified from brain extract. Chemical cross-linking by disuccinimidyl suberate (DSS), a homobifunctional chemical cross-linker that specifically cross-linked R-tau dimers, and a Superose 12 gel filtration chromatography revealed that R-tau preparations contain mixtures of monomeric and dimeric R-tau species. When the structure of NCLK-phosphorylated R-tau was studied by a similar approach, DSS preferentially cross-linked the phosphorylated R-tau over the nonphosphorylated R-tau, and the phosphorylated R-tau eluted as a dimeric species from the gel filtration column. Phosphorylated R-tau became resistant to DSS upon dephosphorylation and was recovered as a monomeric species from the gel filtration column. In the presence of a low concentration of dithiothreitol (1.65 microM), R-tau formed disulfide cross-linked R-tau dimers. When compared, phosphorylated R-tau formed more disulfide cross-linked dimers than the nonphosphorylated R-tau. B-tau also was specifically cross-linked to dimers by DSS. When B-tau and NCLK-phosphorylated B-tau were treated with DSS, phosphorylated B-tau was preferentially cross-linked over nonphosphorylated counterpart. Taken together, these results suggest that phosphorylation by NCLK promotes dimerization and formation of disulfide cross-linked tau dimers, which is suggested to be the key step leading to PHF assembly (Schweers, O., Mandelkow, E.-M., Biernat, J., and Mandelkow, E. (1995) Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U. S. A. 92, 8463-8467).

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