A mathematical model of multisite phosphorylation of tau protein

PLoS One. 2018 Feb 6;13(2):e0192519. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0192519. eCollection 2018.


Abnormal tau metabolism followed by formation of tau deposits causes a number of neurodegenerative diseases called tauopathies including Alzheimer's disease. Hyperphosphorylation of tau protein precedes tau aggregation and is a topic of interest for the development of pharmacological interventions to prevent pathology progression at early stages. The development of a mathematical model of multisite phosphorylation of tau would be helpful for searching for the targets of pharmacological interventions and candidates for biomarkers of pathology progression. In the present study, we for the first time developed a model of multisite phosphorylation of tau protein and elucidated the relative contribution of kinases to phosphorylation of distinct sites. The model describes phosphorylation of tau or PKA-prephosphorylated tau by GSK3β and CDK5 and dephosphorylation by PP2A, accurately reproducing the data for short-term kinetics of tau (de)phosphorylation. Our results suggest that kinase inhibition may more specifically prevent tau hyperphosphorylation, e.g., on PHF sites, which are key biomarkers of pathological changes in Alzheimer's disease. The main features of our model are partial phosphorylation of tau residues and merging of random and sequential mechanisms of multisite phosphorylation within the framework of the probability-based approach assuming independent phosphorylation events.

MeSH terms

  • Alzheimer Disease / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Models, Theoretical*
  • Phosphorylation
  • Protein Kinases / metabolism
  • Protein Phosphatase 2 / metabolism
  • Tauopathies / metabolism*
  • tau Proteins / metabolism*


  • tau Proteins
  • Protein Kinases
  • Protein Phosphatase 2

Grant support

The authors received no specific funding for this work.