The two Cysteines of Tau protein are functionally distinct and contribute differentially to its pathogenicity in vivo

J Neurosci. 2020 Dec 15;JN-RM-1920-20. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.1920-20.2020. Online ahead of print.


Although Tau accumulation is clearly linked to pathogenesis in Alzheimer's disease (AD) and other Tauopathies, the mechanism that initiates the aggregation of this highly soluble protein in vivo remains largely unanswered. Interestingly, in vitro Tau can be induced to form fibrillar filaments by oxidation of its two cysteine residues, generating an intermolecular disulfide bond that promotes dimerization and fibrillization. The recently solved structures of Tau filaments revealed that the two cysteine residues are not structurally equivalent since Cys-322 is incorporated into the core of the fibril whereas Cys-291 projects away from the core to form the fuzzy coat. Here, we examined whether mutation of these cysteines to alanine affects differentially Tau mediated toxicity and dysfunction in the well-established Drosophila Tauopathy model. Experiments were conducted with both sexes, or with either sex. Each cysteine residue contributes differentially to Tau stability, phosphorylation status, aggregation propensity, resistance to stress, learning and memory. Importantly, our work uncovers a critical role of Cys-322 in determining Tau toxicity and dysfunction.SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENTCysteine-291 and Cysteine-322, the only two cysteine residues of Tau present in only 4-Repeat or all isoforms respectively, have competing functions: as the key residues in the catalytic center, they enable Tau auto-acetylation, and as residues within the microtubule-binding repeat region are important not only for Tau function but also instrumental in the initiation of Tau aggregation. In this study, we present the first in vivo evidence that their substitution leads to differential consequences on Tau's physiological and pathophysiological functions. These differences raise the possibility that cysteine residues play a potential role in determining the functional diversity between isoforms.