It has been known for some time that the neurofibrillary pathology in Alzheimer's disease consists of so-called paired helical and straight filaments made up of the microtubule-associated protein tau. The degree of dementia observed in the disease correlates better with the extent of neurofibrillary pathology than with the Abeta amyloid deposits, the other characteristic defining pathological fibrous deposit in Alzheimer's disease. However, no familial cases of Alzheimer's disease have been genetically linked to the tau protein locus. Recently a group of frontotemporal dementias with parkinsonism linked to chromosome 17 has been shown to be caused by mutations in the tau gene. Some are missense mutations giving altered tau proteins, whereas others affect the splicing of the pre-mRNA and change the balance between different tau isoforms. Histologically these diseases are all characterised by various kinds of filamentous tau protein deposits, mostly in the complete absence of Abeta deposits. The abnormal tau filaments show different morphologies, depending on the nature of the tau mutation. These diseases show that tau mutations can be a prime cause of inherited dementing illness and may throw some light on the pathological process in the much larger number of sporadic cases of Alzheimer's disease.
Copyright 2000 Academic Press.