Microtubule dynamics and the neurodegenerative triad of Alzheimer's disease: The hidden connection

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Abstract

Alzheimer's disease (AD) is the most common neurodegenerative disorder and is, on a histopathological level, characterized by the presence of extracellular amyloid plaques composed of the protein fragment Aβ, and intracellular neurofibrillary tangles, which contain the microtubule-associated protein tau in a hyperphosphorylated state. In AD defects in microtubule (MT) assembly and organization have also been reported; however, it is unclear whether MT abnormalities have a causal and early role in the disease process or represent a common end point downstream of the neurodegenerative cascade. Recent evidence indicates that microtubule-stabilizing drugs prevent axonopathy in animal models of tauopathies and reverse Aβ-induced loss of synaptic connectivity in an ex vivo model of amyloidosis. This could suggest that MT dysfunction connects some of the degenerative events and provides a useful target to simultaneously prevent several neurodegenerative processes in AD. Here, we describe how changes in the structure and dynamics of MTs are involved in the different aspects of the neurodegenerative triad of AD. We discuss evidence that MTs are affected both by tau-dependent and tau-independent mechanisms but appear to be regulated in a distinct way in different neuronal compartments. We argue that modulation of MT dynamics could be of potential benefit but needs to be precisely controlled in a cell and compartment-specific manner to avoid harmful side effects.

This article is part of the series “Beyond Amyloid”.

Microtubule abnormalities are a common feature in several neurodegenerative diseases. Here, we describe how changes in microtubule dynamics are involved in the different aspects of the neurodegenerative triad of Alzheimer's disease. We discuss evidence that microtubule dynamics is (mis)regulated in a distinct manner in different neuronal compartments. Modulation of microtubule dynamics could be of potential benefit, but needs to be precisely controlled in a cell and compartment-specific manner to avoid harmful side effects.

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