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A new TAO kinase inhibitor reduces tau phosphorylation at sites associated with neurodegeneration in human tauopathies

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Original languageEnglish
Article numberActa Neuropathologica Communications 2018 6:37
Pages (from-to)1-16
Number of pages16
JournalActa Neuropathologica Communications
Issue number37
Early online date7 May 2018
Accepted/In press21 Apr 2018
E-pub ahead of print7 May 2018


King's Authors


In Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and related tauopathies, the microtubule-associated protein tau is highly phosphorylated and aggregates to form neurofibrillary tangles that are characteristic of these neurodegenerative diseases. Our previous work has demonstrated that the thousand-and-one amino acid kinases (TAOKs) 1 and 2 phosphorylate tau on more than 40 residues in vitro. Here we show that TAOKs are phosphorylated and active in AD brain sections displaying mild (Braak stage II), intermediate (Braak stage IV) and advanced (Braak stage VI) tau pathology and that active TAOKs co-localise with both pre-tangle and tangle structures. TAOK activity is also enriched in pathological tau containing sarkosyl-insoluble extracts prepared from AD brain. Two new phosphorylated tau residues (T123 and T427) were identified in AD brain, which appear to be targeted specifically by TAOKs. A new small molecule TAOK inhibitor (Compound 43) reduced tau phosphorylation on T123 and T427 and also on additional pathological sites (S262/S356 and S202/T205/S208) in vitro and in cell models. The TAOK inhibitor also decreased tau phosphorylation in differentiated primary cortical neurons without affecting markers of synapse and neuron health. Notably, TAOK activity also co-localised with tangles in post-mortem frontotemporal lobar degeneration (FTLD) brain tissue. Furthermore, the TAOK inhibitor decreased tau phosphorylation in induced pluripotent stem cell derived neurons from FTLD patients, as well as cortical neurons from a transgenic mouse model of tauopathy (Tau35 mice). Our results demonstrate that abnormal TAOK activity is present at pre-tangles and tangles in tauopathies and that TAOK inhibition effectively decreases tau phosphorylation on pathological sites. Thus, TAOKs may represent a novel target to reduce or prevent tau-associated neurodegeneration in tauopathies.

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