Tau protein isoforms, phosphorylation and role in neurodegenerative disorders

Brain Res Brain Res Rev. 2000 Aug;33(1):95-130. doi: 10.1016/s0165-0173(00)00019-9.


Tau proteins belong to the family of microtubule-associated proteins. They are mainly expressed in neurons where they play an important role in the assembly of tubulin monomers into microtubules to constitute the neuronal microtubules network. Microtubules are involved in maintaining the cell shape and serve as tracks for axonal transport. Tau proteins also establish some links between microtubules and other cytoskeletal elements or proteins. Tau proteins are translated from a single gene located on chromosome 17. Their expression is developmentally regulated by an alternative splicing mechanism and six different isoforms exist in the human adult brain. Tau proteins are the major constituents of intraneuronal and glial fibrillar lesions described in Alzheimer's disease and numerous neurodegenerative disorders referred to as 'tauopathies'. Molecular analysis has revealed that an abnormal phosphorylation might be one of the important events in the process leading to their aggregation. Moreover, a specific set of pathological tau proteins exhibiting a typical biochemical pattern, and a different regional and laminar distribution could characterize each of these disorders. Finally, a direct correlation has been established between the progressive involvement of the neocortical areas and the increasing severity of dementia, suggesting that pathological tau proteins are reliable marker of the neurodegenerative process. The recent discovery of tau gene mutations in frontotemporal dementia with parkinsonism linked to chromosome 17 has reinforced the predominant role attributed to tau proteins in the pathogenesis of neurodegenerative disorders, and underlined the fact that distinct sets of tau isoforms expressed in different neuronal populations could lead to different pathologies.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Humans
  • Neurodegenerative Diseases / metabolism*
  • Neurodegenerative Diseases / pathology
  • Neurodegenerative Diseases / physiopathology*
  • Phosphorylation
  • Protein Isoforms / genetics*
  • Protein Isoforms / metabolism*
  • tau Proteins / genetics*
  • tau Proteins / metabolism*


  • Protein Isoforms
  • tau Proteins