Phosphorylation of tau at THR212 and SER214 in human neuronal and glial cultures: the role of AKT

Neuroscience. 2004;127(3):649-58. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroscience.2004.05.036.


We have reported recently that the microtubule-associated protein tau is phosphorylated in vitro by Akt, an important kinase in anti-apoptotic signaling regulated by insulin and growth factors. We also established that Akt phosphorylates tau separately at T212 and S214, two sites previously shown to be phosphorylated by glycogen synthase kinase 3beta (GSK3beta) and protein kinase A (PKA), respectively. In the present studies, we examined the relationship between Akt and T212/S214 in primary cultures of human neurons and astrocytes, and evaluated the contribution of two other kinases. In intact cells, we found a very low content of active (phospho-S473) form of Akt. We also found a low content of phospho-S214 but not phospho-T212 of tau, suggesting that only phospho-S212 may depend on Akt activity in situ. We upregulated Akt activity using two experimental models: treatment with a protein phosphatase inhibitor, okadaic acid, and transfection with a constitutively active Akt gene construct (c-Akt). Under these conditions, phosphorylation of tau at T212 and S214 was regulated independently, with little change or downregulation of phospho-T212 and dynamic upregulation of phospho-S214. Our studies revealed that Akt may influence the phospho-S214 content in a meaningful manner. They also revealed that PKA may only partially contribute to the phosphorylation of S214. In comparison, okadaic acid treatment severely depleted the content of GSK3beta and downregulated the remaining GSK3beta activity by Akt-dependent inhibition, consistent with minimal changes in phospho-T212. In summary, these results strongly suggest that in primary cultures, Akt selectively phosphorylates tau at S214 rather than T212. Our studies raise the possibility that tau S214 may participate in Akt-mediated anti-apoptotic signaling.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Apoptosis / physiology
  • Astrocytes / cytology
  • Astrocytes / metabolism*
  • Blotting, Western
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Cyclic AMP-Dependent Protein Kinases / metabolism
  • Epitopes / metabolism
  • Fetus
  • Gene Expression
  • Glycogen Synthase Kinase 3 / metabolism
  • Glycogen Synthase Kinase 3 beta
  • Humans
  • Neurons / cytology
  • Neurons / metabolism*
  • Phosphorylation
  • Protein-Serine-Threonine Kinases / genetics
  • Protein-Serine-Threonine Kinases / metabolism*
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins / genetics
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins / metabolism*
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-akt
  • Serine / metabolism
  • Threonine / metabolism
  • Up-Regulation
  • tau Proteins / metabolism*


  • Epitopes
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins
  • tau Proteins
  • Threonine
  • Serine
  • AKT1 protein, human
  • GSK3B protein, human
  • Glycogen Synthase Kinase 3 beta
  • Protein-Serine-Threonine Kinases
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-akt
  • Cyclic AMP-Dependent Protein Kinases
  • Glycogen Synthase Kinase 3