The microtubule-associated protein tau is hyperphosphorylated abnormally in AD and related neurodegenerative disorders. Many phospho epitopes created by proline directed kinases (SP/TP sites) show relative specificity for disease states. To test whether phosphorylation at the disease-associated SP/TP sites affects tau toxicity in vivo, we expressed a form of tau in Drosophila in which all SP/TP sites are mutated to alanine. We find that blocking phosphorylation at SP/TP motifs markedly reduces tau toxicity in vivo. Using phosphorylation-specific antibodies, we identify a positive correlation between increased phosphorylation at disease-associated sites and neurotoxicity. We use the phosphorylation-incompetent version of tau to show that kinase and phosphatase modifiers of tau neurotoxicity, including cdk5/p35, the JNK kinase hemipterous and PP2A act via SP/TP phosphorylation sites. We provide direct evidence in an animal model system to support the role of phosphorylation at SP/TP sites in playing a critical role in tau neurotoxicity.
(c) 2007 Wiley-Liss, Inc.