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Biochemistry. 1999 Mar 23;38(12):3549-58.

Phosphorylation that detaches tau protein from microtubules (Ser262, Ser214) also protects it against aggregation into Alzheimer paired helical filaments.

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Max-Planck-Unit for Structural Molecular Biology, Notkestrasse 85, D-22603 Hamburg, Germany.


One of the hallmarks of Alzheimer's disease is the abnormal state of the microtubule-associated protein tau in neurons. It is both highly phosphorylated and aggregated into paired helical filaments, and it is commonly assumed that the hyperphosphorylation of tau causes its detachment from microtubules and promotes its assembly into PHFs. We have studied the relationship between the phosphorylation of tau by several kinases (MARK, PKA, MAPK, GSK3) and its assembly into PHFs. The proline-directed kinases MAPK and GSK3 are known to phosphorylate most Ser-Pro or Thr-Pro motifs in the regions flanking the repeat domain of tau: they induce the reaction with several antibodies diagnostic of Alzheimer PHFs, but this type of phosphorylation has only a weak effect on tau-microtubule interactions and on PHF assembly. By contrast, MARK and PKA phosphorylate several sites within the repeats (notably the KXGS motifs including Ser262, Ser324, and Ser356, plus Ser320); in addition PKA phosphorylates some sites in the flanking domains, notably Ser214. This type of phosphorylation strongly reduces tau's affinity for microtubules, and at the same time inhibits tau's assembly into PHFs. Thus, contrary to expectations, the phosphorylation that detaches tau from microtubules does not prime it for PHF assembly, but rather inhibits it. Likewise, although the phosphorylation sites on Ser-Pro or Thr-Pro motifs are the most prominent ones on Alzheimer PHFs (by antibody labeling), they are only weakly inhibitory to PHF assembly. This implies that the hyperphosphorylation of tau in Alzheimer's disease is not directly responsible for the pathological aggregation into PHFs; on the contrary, phosphorylation protects tau against aggregation.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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