Neurofibrillary tangles (NFTs) are intraneuronal aggregates associated with several neurodegenerative diseases including Alzheimer's disease. These abnormal accumulations are primarily comprised of fibrils of the microtubule-associated protein tau. During the progression of NFT formation, disperse and non-interacting tau fibrils become stable aggregates of tightly packed and intertwined filaments. Although the molecular mechanisms responsible for the conversion of disperse tau filaments into tangles of filaments are not known, it is believed that some of the associated changes in tau observed in Alzheimer's disease, such as phosphorylation, truncation, ubiquitination, glycosylation or nitration, may play a role.
We have investigated the effects of tau phosphorylation by glycogen synthase kinase-3Î² (GSK-3Î²) on tau filaments in an in vitro model system. We have found that phosphorylation by GSK-3Î² is sufficient to cause tau filaments to coalesce into tangle-like aggregates similar to those isolated from Alzheimer's disease brain.
These results suggest that phosphorylation of tau by GSK-3Î² promotes formation of tangle-like filament morphology. The in vitro cell-free experiments described here provide a new model system to study mechanisms of NFT development. Although the severity of dementia has been found to correlate with the presence of NFTs, there is some question as to the identity of the neurotoxic agents involved. This model system will be beneficial in identifying intermediates or side reaction products that might be neurotoxic.
Rankin, Carolyn A, Qian Sun, and Truman C Gamblin. 2007. “Tau Phosphorylation by GSK-3beta Promotes Tangle-like Filament Morphology.” Molecular Neurodegeneration 2:12. http://dx.doi.org/10.1186/1750-1326-2-12