Small misfolded tau species are internalized via bulk endocytosis and anterogradely and retrogradely transported in neurons

Jessica W. Wu, Mathieu Herman, Li Liu, Sabrina Simoes, Christopher M. Acker, Helen Figueroa, Joshua I. Steinberg, Martin Margittai, Rakez Kayed, Chiara Zurzolo, Gilbert Di Paolo, Karen E. Duff

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

388 Scopus citations


Background: Exogenous, misfolded Tau can be internalized, but details of the mechanism are unknown. Results: Small misfolded Tau species are internalized through endocytosis, anterogradely and retrogradely transported. Conclusion: Tau uptake is dependent on conformation and size of aggregates, and regulated through endocytosis. Significance: Understanding the mechanism by which pathological Tau is internalized provides a foundation for therapeutic approaches targeting uptake and propagation of tauopathy. The accumulation of Tau into aggregates is associated with key pathological events in frontotemporal lobe degeneration (FTD-Tau) and Alzheimer disease (AD). Recent data have shown that misfolded Tau can be internalized by cells in vitro (Frost, B., Jacks, R. L., and Diamond, M. I. (2009) J. Biol. Chem. 284, 12845-12852) and propagate pathology in vivo (Clavaguera, F., Bolmont, T., Crowther, R. A., Abramowski, D., Frank, S., Probst, A., Fraser, G., Stalder, A. K., Beibel, M., Staufenbiel, M., Jucker, M., Goedert, M., and Tolnay, M. (2009) Nat. Cell Biol. 11, 909-913; Lasagna-Reeves, C. A., Castillo-Carranza, D. L., Sengupta, U., Guerrero-Munoz, M. J., Kiritoshi, T., Neugebauer, V., Jackson, G. R., and Kayed, R. (2012) Sci. Rep. 2, 700). Here we show that recombinant Tau misfolds into low molecular weight (LMW) aggregates prior to assembly into fibrils, and both extracellular LMW Tau aggregates and short fibrils, but not monomers, long fibrils, nor long filaments purified from brain extract are taken up by neurons. Remarkably, misfolded Tau can be internalized at the somatodendritic compartment, or the axon terminals and it can be transported anterogradely, retrogradely, and can enhance tauopathy in vivo. The internalized Tau aggregates co-localize with dextran, a bulk-endocytosis marker, and with the endolysosomal compartments. Our findings demonstrate that exogenous Tau can be taken up by cells, uptake depends on both the conformation and size of the Tau aggregates and once inside cells, Tau can be transported. These data provide support for observations that tauopathy can spread trans-synaptically in vivo, via cell-to-cell transfer.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1856-1870
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Biological Chemistry
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jan 18 2013

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry
  • Molecular Biology
  • Cell Biology


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