Increased level of active GSK-3β in Alzheimer's disease and accumulation in argyrophilic grains and in neurones at different stages of neurofibrillary degeneration

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The somatodendritic accumulation of hyperphosphorylated tau proteins is an early event preceding the appearance of neurofibrillary tangles (NFT) in Alzheimer's disease (AD) and might be necessary for their formation. Glycogen synthase kinase-3β (GSK-3β) is a physiological kinase for tau that generates many tau phosphorylation sites identified in NFT and in other tau-positive inclusions. We have studied the cellular distribution and the expression of the active form of GSK-3β (GSK-3 pTyr216) in AD patients, in argyrophilic grain disease and in diffuse Lewy body disease. By Western blotting analysis, a significant increase in the level of GSK-3 (pTyr216) was observed in the frontal cortex of AD patients. A population of neurones showed a somatodendritic accumulation of GSK-3 (pTyr216) but not of the inactive form of GSK-3β (GSK-3 pSer9). Most of these GSK-3 (pTyr216)-positive cells were positive for six different phosphotau epitopes known to be generated by GSK-3β. By using a quadruple labelling method using GSK-3 (pTyr216) and phosphotau immunolabelling combined with Gallyas and DAPI staining, we examined neurones containing a somatodendritic GSK-3 (pTyr216) immunoreactivity at different stages of neurodegeneration. A majority of neurones at the pretangle stage without Gallyas-positive inclusions were GSK-3 (pTyr216) positive and this GSK-3 (pTyr216) immunoreactivity remained in most cells containing Gallyas and phosphotau-positive inclusions excepted in extracellular NFT. A GSK-3 (pTyr216) immunoreactivity was present in argyrophilic grains but not in cortical Lewy bodies. These results directly suggest that the activity of GSK-3β is increased in AD and that somatodendritic accumulation and activation of GSK-3β is an early event preceding and accompanying the formation of NFT and of other tau-positive inclusions.

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