Tau alteration and neuronal degeneration in tauopathies: mechanisms and models

Biochim Biophys Acta. 2005 Jan 3;1739(2-3):331-54. doi: 10.1016/j.bbadis.2004.06.018.


Tau becomes characteristically altered both functionally and structurally in several neurodegenerative diseases now collectively called tauopathies. Although increasing evidence supports that alterations of tau may directly cause neuronal degeneration and cell death, the mechanisms, which render tau to become a toxic agent are still unclear. In addition, it is obscure, whether neurodegeneration in tauopathies occurs via a common mechanism or specific differences exist. The aim of this review is to provide an overview about the different experimental models that currently exist, how they are used to determine the role of tau during degeneration and what has been learnt from them concerning the mechanistic role of tau in the disease process. The review begins with a discussion about similarities and differences in tau alteration in paradigmatic tauopathies such as frontotemporal dementia and parkinsonism linked to chromosome 17 (FTDP-17) and Alzheimer's disease (AD). The second part concentrates on major experimental models that have been used to address the mechanistic role of tau during degeneration. This will include a discussion of cell-free assays, culture models using cell lines or dissociated neurons, and animal models. How these models aid to understand (i) alterations in the function of tau as a microtubule-associated protein (MAP), (ii) direct cytotoxicity of altered tau protein, and (iii) the potential role of tau aggregation in neurodegenerative processes will be the central theme of this part. The review ends with concluding remarks about a general mechanistic model of the role of tau alteration and neuronal degeneration in tauopathies and future perspectives.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Alzheimer Disease / metabolism
  • Alzheimer Disease / pathology
  • Animals
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Chromosomes, Human, Pair 17
  • Dementia / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Mice
  • Mice, Transgenic
  • Models, Biological
  • Mutation
  • Nerve Degeneration / metabolism
  • Neurofibrillary Tangles
  • Parkinson Disease / metabolism
  • Protein Isoforms / metabolism
  • Tauopathies / metabolism*
  • tau Proteins / genetics
  • tau Proteins / metabolism*
  • tau Proteins / physiology


  • Protein Isoforms
  • tau Proteins