Reduction of advanced tau-mediated memory deficits by the MAP kinase p38γ

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Abstract

Hyperphosphorylation of the neuronal tau protein contributes to Alzheimer’s disease (AD) by promoting tau pathology and neuronal and cognitive deficits. In contrast, we have previously shown that site-specific tau phosphorylation can inhibit toxic signals induced by amyloid-β (Aβ) in mouse models. The post-synaptic mitogen-activated protein (MAP) kinase p38γ mediates this site-specific phosphorylation on tau at Threonine-205 (T205). Using a gene therapeutic approach, we draw on this neuroprotective mechanism to improve memory in two Aβ-dependent mouse models of AD at stages when advanced memory deficits are present. Increasing activity of post-synaptic kinase p38γ that targets T205 in tau reduced memory deficits in symptomatic Aβ-induced AD models. Reconstitution experiments with wildtype human tau or phosphorylation-deficient tauT205A showed that T205 modification is critical for downstream effects of p38γ that prevent memory impairment in APP-transgenic mice. Furthermore, genome editing of the T205 codon in the murine Mapt gene showed that this single side chain in endogenous tau critically modulates memory deficits in APP-transgenic Alzheimer’s mice. Ablating the protective effect of p38γ activity by genetic p38γ deletion in a tau transgenic mouse model that expresses non-pathogenic tau rendered tau toxic and resulted in impaired memory function in the absence of human Aβ. Thus, we propose that modulating neuronal p38γ activity serves as an intrinsic tau-dependent therapeutic approach to augment compromised cognition in advanced dementia.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)279-294
Number of pages16
JournalActa Neuropathologica
Volume140
Issue number3
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sep 2020

Keywords

  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Aβ toxicity
  • Memory deficits
  • Mouse models
  • p38 MAP kinase
  • Tau phosphorylation

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