Abundant neurofibrillary lesions consisting of the microtubule associated protein tau and amyloid beta peptide deposits are the defining lesions of Alzheimer's disease. Prominent filamentous tau pathology and brain degeneration in the absence of extracellular amyloid deposition characterize a number of other neurodegenerative disorders (i.e. progressive supranuclear palsy, corticobasal degeneration, Pick's disease) collectively referred to as tauopathies. The discovery of multiple tau gene mutations that are pathogenic for hereditary frontotemporal dementia and parkinsonism linked to chromosome 17 in many kindreds, as well as the demonstration that tau polymorphisms are genetic risk factors for sporadic tauopathies, directly implicate tau abnormalities in the onset/progression of neurodegenerative disease. Different tau gene mutations may be pathogenic by impairing the functions of tau or by perturbing the splicing of the tau gene, thereby resulting in biochemically and structurally distinct tau aggregates. However, since specific polymorphisms and mutations in the tau gene lead to diverse phenotypes, it is plausible that additional genetic or epigenetic factors influence the clinical and pathological manifestations of both familial and sporadic tauopathies. Thus, efforts to develop animal models of tau-mediated neurodegeneration should provide further insights into the onset and progression of tauopathies as well as Alzheimer's disease, and they could accelerate research to discover more effective therapies for these disorders.