Caspase-3-dependent cleavage of Akt modulates tau phosphorylation via GSK3β kinase: implications for Alzheimer's disease

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The pathological hallmark of Alzheimer's disease (AD) is accumulation of misfolded amyloid-β peptides and hyperphosphorylated tau protein in the brain. Increasing evidence suggests that serine-aspartyl proteases—caspases are activated in the AD brain. Previous studies identified a caspase-3 cleavage site within the amyloid-β precursor protein, and a caspase-3 cleavage of tau as the mechanisms involved in the development of Aβ and tau neuropathology, respectively. However, the potential role that caspase-3 could have on tau metabolism remains unknown. In the current studies, we provide experimental evidence that caspase-3 directly and specifically regulates tau phosphorylation, and demonstrate that this effect is mediated by the GSK3β kinase pathway via a caspase-3-dependent cleavage of the protein kinase B (also known as Akt). In addition, we confirm these results in vivo by using a transgenic mouse model of AD. Collectively, our findings demonstrate a new role for caspase-3 in the neurobiology of tau, and suggest that therapeutic strategies aimed at inhibiting this protease-dependent cleavage of Akt may prove beneficial in preventing tau hyperphosphorylation and subsequent neuropathology in AD and related tauopathies.

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