Expression of a truncated tau protein induces oxidative stress in a rodent model of tauopathy

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Abstract

Truncation of tau protein and oxidative stress have been implicated as important pathogenetic events in tauopathies including Alzheimer's disease (AD). We have generated a transgenic rat model that expresses a human truncated tau protein analogous to a variant form derived from sporadic AD. We employed this model to investigate the relationship between tau protein truncation and oxidative stress. We have found that rat cortical neurons (derived from transgenic animals) that had been cultured in vitro for 16 days showed an increased accumulation of reactive oxygen species (up to 1.4-fold increase; P < 0.01) when compared to neurons derived from nontransgenic control animals. Transgene-expressing neurons treated with inducers of oxidative stress, such as glucose oxidase (GO) and buthionine sulfoximine (BSO), displayed dramatically reduced survival (31.4 ± 3.3 and 24.9 ± 3.6%, respectively; both P < 0.001) compared to neurons from control animals (79.9 ± 7.1%, survival following treatment with GO and to 98.2 ± 3.8%, survival following treatment with BSO). The number of mitochondria in processes of neurons from transgenic animals was decreased by about one-third from that present in neurons from control animals. The results reveal that expression of a human truncated variant form of tau protein leads to the accumulation of reactive oxygen species and sensitizes rat cortical neurons to cell death induced by oxidative stress. This indicates that truncation of tau may precede oxidative stress in the pathogenesis of neurodegenerative diseases such as AD and other tauopathies. These findings may have implications for therapeutic strategies aiming at prevention of neurofibrillary degeneration and cognitive decline, and identify potential new targets for drug development.

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