Autophagic degradation of tau in primary neurons and its enhancement by trehalose

Neurobiol Aging. 2012 Oct;33(10):2291-305. doi: 10.1016/j.neurobiolaging.2011.11.009. Epub 2011 Dec 14.


Modulating the tau level may represent a therapeutic target for Alzheimer's disease (AD), as accumulating evidence shows that Abeta-induced neurodegeneration is mediated by tau. It is therefore important to understand the expression and degradation of tau in neurons. Recently we showed that overexpressed mutant tau and tau aggregates are degraded via the autophagic pathway in an N2a cell model. Here we investigated whether autophagy is involved in the degradation of endogenous tau in cultured primary neurons. We activated this pathway in primary neurons with trehalose, an enhancer of autophagy. This resulted in the reduction of endogenous tau protein. Tau phosphorylation at several sites elevated in AD pathology had little influence on its degradation by autophagy. Furthermore, by using a neuronal cell model of tauopathy, we showed that activation of autophagy suppresses tau aggregation and eliminates cytotoxicity. Notably, apart from activating autophagy, trehalose also inhibits tau aggregation directly. Thus, trehalose may be a good candidate for developing therapeutic strategies for AD and other tauopathies.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Alzheimer Disease / metabolism
  • Alzheimer Disease / prevention & control
  • Animals
  • Autophagy*
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Mice
  • Neurons / drug effects
  • Neurons / metabolism*
  • Phosphorylation
  • Rats
  • Trehalose / pharmacology*
  • tau Proteins / metabolism*


  • tau Proteins
  • Trehalose