Posttranslational Modifications Mediate the Structural Diversity of Tauopathy Strains

Cell. 2020 Feb 20;180(4):633-644.e12. doi: 10.1016/j.cell.2020.01.027. Epub 2020 Feb 6.


Tau aggregation into insoluble filaments is the defining pathological hallmark of tauopathies. However, it is not known what controls the formation and templated seeding of strain-specific structures associated with individual tauopathies. Here, we use cryo-electron microscopy (cryo-EM) to determine the structures of tau filaments from corticobasal degeneration (CBD) human brain tissue. Cryo-EM and mass spectrometry of tau filaments from CBD reveal that this conformer is heavily decorated with posttranslational modifications (PTMs), enabling us to map PTMs directly onto the structures. By comparing the structures and PTMs of tau filaments from CBD and Alzheimer's disease, it is found that ubiquitination of tau can mediate inter-protofilament interfaces. We propose a structure-based model in which cross-talk between PTMs influences tau filament structure, contributing to the structural diversity of tauopathy strains. Our approach establishes a framework for further elucidating the relationship between the structures of polymorphic fibrils, including their PTMs, and neurodegenerative disease.

Keywords: Alzheimer's disease; acetylation; corticobasal degeneration; cryo-EM; integrated structural biology; posttranslational modifications; tau strains; tauopathy; templated seeding; ubiquitination.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Cryoelectron Microscopy
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Protein Aggregation, Pathological / metabolism
  • Protein Aggregation, Pathological / pathology
  • Protein Processing, Post-Translational*
  • Tauopathies / metabolism*
  • Tauopathies / pathology
  • tau Proteins / chemistry*
  • tau Proteins / metabolism


  • tau Proteins