Glycogen synthase kinase 3beta phosphorylates Alzheimer's disease-specific Ser396 of microtubule-associated protein tau by a sequential mechanism

Biochemistry. 2006 Mar 14;45(10):3125-33. doi: 10.1021/bi051634r.


Phosphorylation of tau on S(396) was suggested to be a key step in the development of neurofibrillary pathology in Alzheimer's disease brain [Bramblett, G. T., Goedert, M., Jacks, R., Merrick, S. E., Trojanowski, J. Q., and Lee, V. M.-Y. (1993) Neuron 10, 1089-1099]. GSK3beta phosphorylates Ser(396) of tau in the brain by a mechanism which is not clear. In this study, when HEK-293 cells were cotransfected with tau and GSK3beta, GSK3beta co-immunoprecipitated with tau and phosphorylated tau on S(202), T(231), S(396), and S(400) but not on S(262), S(235), and S(404). Blocking phosphorylation on T(231), S(235), S(396), S(400), or S(404) did not prevent the subsequent phosphorylation on S(202) by GSK3beta. These data suggest that GSK3beta directly phosphorylates tau on S(202) (without requiring prephosphorylation). However, preventing phosphorylation on S(235), S(400), and S(404) prevented GSK3beta-dependent phosphorylation of T(231), S(396), and S(400), respectively. This indicates that phosphorylation of T(231), S(396), and S(400) by GSK3beta depends on a previous phosphorylation of S(235), S(400), and S(404), respectively. To examine S(396) phosphorylation, we analyzed phosphorylation of S(396), S(400), and S(404). Blocking phosphorylation of S(404) prevented the subsequent GSK3beta-dependent phosphorylation of both S(400) and S(396). When phosphorylation of S(404) was allowed but S(400) blocked, GSK3beta failed to phosphorylate S(396). Thus, GSK3beta phosphorylates S(396) by a two-step mechanism. In the first step, GSK3beta phosphorylates S(400) of previously S(404)-phosphorylated tau. This event primes tau for second-step phosphorylation of S(396) by GSK3beta. We conclude that GSK3beta phosphorylates tau directly at S(202) but requires the previous phosphorylation on S(235) to phosphorylate T(231). Phosphorylation of S(396), on the other hand, occurs sequentially. Once a priming kinase phosphorylates S(404), GSK3beta sequentially phosphorylates S(400) and then S(396).

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Alanine / genetics
  • Alanine / metabolism
  • Alzheimer Disease / metabolism
  • Animals
  • Brain / metabolism
  • Cattle
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Glycogen Synthase Kinase 3 / metabolism*
  • Glycogen Synthase Kinase 3 beta
  • Humans
  • Mutation
  • Phosphorylation
  • Serine / genetics
  • Serine / metabolism*
  • Transfection
  • Tyrosine / genetics
  • Tyrosine / metabolism
  • tau Proteins / genetics
  • tau Proteins / metabolism*


  • tau Proteins
  • Tyrosine
  • Serine
  • GSK3B protein, human
  • Glycogen Synthase Kinase 3 beta
  • Glycogen Synthase Kinase 3
  • Alanine