Hyperphosphorylation and accumulation of tau in neurons (and glial cells) is one the main pathologic hallmarks in Alzheimers disease (AD) and other tauopathies, including Picks disease (PiD), progressive supranuclear palsy, corticobasal degeneration, argyrophilic grain disease and familial frontotemporal dementia and parkinsonism linked to chromosome 17 due to mutations in the tau gene (FTDP-17-tau). Hyperphosphorylation of tau is regulated by several kinases that phosphorylate specific sites of tau in vitro. GSK-3-immunoprecipitated sarcosyl-insoluble fractions in AD have the capacity to phosphorylate recombinant tau. In addition, GSK-3 phosphorylated at Ser9, that inactivates GSK-3, is found in the majority of neurons with neurofibrillary tangles and dystrophic neurites of senile plaques in AD, and in Pick bodies and other phospho-tau-containing neurons and glial cells in other tauopathies. Increased expression of active kinases, including stress-activated kinase, c-Jun N-terminal kinase (SAPK / JNK) and kinase p38 has been found in brain homogenates in all the tauopathies. Strong active SAPK / JNK and p38 immunoreactivity has been observed restricted to neurons and glial cells containing hyperphosphorylated tau, as well as in dystrophic neurites of senile plaques in AD. Moreover, SAPK / JNK- and p38-immunoprecipitated sub-cellular fractions enriched in abnormal hyperphosphorylated tau have the capacity to phosphorylate recombinant tau and c-Jun and ATF-2 which are specific substrates of SAPK / JNK and p38 in AD and PiD. Interestingly, increased expression of phosphorylated (active) SAPK / JNK and p38 and hyperphosphorylated tau containing neurites have been observed around βA4 amyloid deposits in the brain of transgenic mice (Tg 2576) carrying the double APP Swedish mutation. These findings suggest that bA4 amyloid has the capacity to trigger the activation of stress kinases which, in turn, phosphorylate tau in neurites surrounding amyloid deposits. Complementary findings have been reported from the autopsy of two AD patients who participated in an amyloid-b immunization trial and died during the course of immunization-induced encephalitis. The neuropathological examination of the brain showed massive focal reduction of amyloid plaques but not of neurofibrillary degeneration. Activation of SAPK / JNK and p38 were reduced together with decreased tau hyperphosphorylation of aberrant neurites in association with decreased amyloid plaques in both Tg2576 mice and human brains. These findings support the amyloid cascade hypothesis of tau phosphorylation mediated by stress kinases in dystrophic neurites of senile plaques but not that of neurofibrillary tangles and neuropil threads in AD.
Keywords: alzheimers disease, tauopathies, post-translational modifications, calmodulin-dependent kinase