Tau phosphorylation in neuronal cell function and dysfunction

J Cell Sci. 2004 Nov 15;117(Pt 24):5721-9. doi: 10.1242/jcs.01558.


Tau is a group of neuronal microtubule-associated proteins that are formed by alternative mRNA splicing and accumulate in neurofibrillary tangles in Alzheimer's disease (AD) brain. Tau plays a key role in regulating microtubule dynamics, axonal transport and neurite outgrowth, and all these functions of tau are modulated by site-specific phosphorylation. There is significant evidence that a disruption of normal phosphorylation events results in tau dysfunction in neurodegenerative diseases, such as AD, and is a contributing factor to the pathogenic processes. Indeed, the abnormal tau phosphorylation that occurs in neurodegenerative conditions not only results in a toxic loss of function (e.g. decreased microtubule binding) but probably also a toxic gain of function (e.g. increased tau-tau interactions). Although tau is phosphorylated in vitro by numerous protein kinases, how many of these actually phosphorylate tau in vivo is unclear. Identification of the protein kinases that phosphorylate tau in vivo in both physiological and pathological processes could provide potential therapeutic targets for the treatment of AD and other neurodegenerative diseases in which there is tau pathology.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Alternative Splicing
  • Alzheimer Disease
  • Animals
  • Axonal Transport
  • Axons / metabolism
  • Brain / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Microtubules / metabolism
  • Models, Biological
  • Neurodegenerative Diseases / pathology
  • Neurofibrillary Tangles / metabolism
  • Neurons / metabolism
  • Neurons / physiology*
  • Phosphorylation
  • Protein Isoforms
  • Protein Structure, Tertiary
  • RNA, Messenger / metabolism
  • tau Proteins / physiology*


  • Protein Isoforms
  • RNA, Messenger
  • tau Proteins