Tau Activates Transposable Elements in Alzheimer's Disease

Cell Rep. 2018 Jun 5;23(10):2874-2880. doi: 10.1016/j.celrep.2018.05.004.


Aging and neurodegenerative disease are characterized by genomic instability in neurons, including aberrant activation and mobilization of transposable elements (TEs). Integrating studies of human postmortem brain tissue and Drosophila melanogaster models, we investigate TE activation in association with Tau pathology in Alzheimer's disease (AD). Leveraging RNA sequencing from 636 human brains, we discover differential expression for several retrotransposons in association with neurofibrillary tangle burden and highlight evidence for global TE transcriptional activation among the long interspersed nuclear element 1 and endogenous retrovirus clades. In addition, we detect Tau-associated, active chromatin signatures at multiple HERV-Fc1 genomic loci. To determine whether Tau is sufficient to induce TE activation, we profile retrotransposons in Drosophila expressing human wild-type or mutant Tau throughout the brain. We discover heterogeneous response profiles, including both age- and genotype-dependent activation of TE expression by Tau. Our results implicate TE activation and associated genomic instability in Tau-mediated AD mechanisms.

Keywords: Alu; Alzheimer's disease; ERV; LINE1; MAPT; RNA sequencing; chromatin; genomic instability; neurodegeneration; retrotransposon.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Alzheimer Disease / genetics*
  • Animals
  • Brain / metabolism
  • Brain / pathology
  • DNA Transposable Elements / genetics*
  • Drosophila melanogaster / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Models, Biological
  • tau Proteins / metabolism*


  • DNA Transposable Elements
  • tau Proteins