Tau protein in normal and Alzheimer's disease brain: an update

J Alzheimers Dis. 1999 Nov;1(4-5):329-51. doi: 10.3233/jad-1999-14-512.


Tau is a microtubule-associated protein that, in a hyperphosphorylated form, comprises the main component of the paired helical filaments and neurofibrillary tangles found in Alzheimer's Disease (AD) brain. It is therefore important to understand the normal functioning and processing of tau protein, and the abnormal posttranslational processing of tau in AD pathology. In 1996, Johnson and Jenkins reviewed the literature on the biochemistry, function, and phosphorylation of tau in normal and AD brain. Since that time, numerous publications have come out further elucidating the properties of tau. The present review updates the topics originally covered in the 1996 review, as well as presents a number of new topics. For example, mutations in the tau gene have been found in several non-AD, autosomal dominant neurodegenerative disorders that exhibit extensive neurofibrillary pathology. In addition, there is increasing evidence that tau may be involved in signal transduction, organelle transport, and cell growth, independent of its microtubule-binding functions. Taken together, the research reviewed here demonstrates that tau is a very complex protein with various functions that are intricately regulated. It is clear that more research is required to completely understand the functions and regulation of tau in normal and AD brain.