Tau is a multifunctional protein that was originally identified as a microtubule-associated protein. In patients diagnosed with frontotemporal dementia and parkinsonism linked to chromosome 17, mutations in the gene encoding tau (MAPT) have been identified that disrupt the normal binding of tau to tubulin resulting in pathological deposits of hyperphosphorylated tau. Abnormal filamentous tau deposits have been reported as a pathological characteristic in several other neurodegenerative diseases, including frontotemporal dementia, Pick Disease, Alzheimer disease, argyrophilic grain disease, progressive supranuclear palsy, and corticobasal degeneration. In the last five years, extensive research has identified 34 different pathogenic MAPT mutations in 101 families worldwide. In vitro, cell-free and transfected cell studies have provided valuable information on tau dysfunction and transgenic mice carrying human MAPT mutations are being generated to study the influence of MAPT mutations in vivo. This mutation update describes the considerable differences in clinical and pathological presentation of patients with MAPT mutations and summarizes the effect of the different mutations on tau functioning. In addition, the role of tau as a genetic susceptibility factor is discussed, together with the genetic evidence for additional causal genes for tau-positive as well as tau-negative dementia.
Copyright 2004 Wiley-Liss, Inc.