In healthy neurons, tau proteins regulate microtubule function in the axon. In the brains of individuals with Alzheimer's disease, tau is hyperphosphorylated and aggregated into intraneuronal deposits called neurofibrillary tangles (NFTs). Hyperphosporylation dislodges tau from the microtubule surface, potentially resulting in compromised axonal integrity and the accumulation of toxic tau peptides. Recent biochemical and animal model studies have re-evaluated tau phosphorylation and other aspects of neurofibrillar pathology. The results indicate that phosphorylation of tau's microtubule-binding domain by the protein kinase MARK primes tau for hyperphosphorylation by the kinases GSK-3 and Cdk5, which in turn triggers the aggregation of tau into filaments and tangles. Toxic consequences for the neuron might be exacerbated by tangle formation but are already evident during the early steps of the process.