Neurofibrillary tangles (NFT), mainly consisting of fibrillar aggregates of hyperphosphorylated tau, are a defining pathological feature of Alzheimer’s Disease and other tauopathies. Progressive accumulation of tau into NFT is considered to be a toxic cellular event causing neurodegeneration. Tau is subject to O-linked N-acetylglucosamine (O-GlcNAc) modification and O-GlcNAcylation of tau has been suggested to regulate tau phosphorylation. We tested if an increase in tau O-GlcNAcylation affected tau phosphorylation and aggregation in the rTg4510 tau transgenic mouse model. Acute treatment of rTg4510 mice with an O-GlcNAcase inhibitor transiently reduced tau phosphorylation at epitopes implicated in tau pathology. More importantly, long-term inhibitor treatment strongly increased tau O-GlcNAcylation, reduced the number of dystrophic neurons, and protected against the formation of pathological tau species without altering the phosphorylation of non-pathological tau. This indicates that O-GlcNAcylation prevents the aggregation of tau in a manner that does not affect its normal phosphorylation state. Collectively, our results support O-GlcNAcase inhibition as a potential therapeutic strategy for the treatment of Alzheimer’s Disease and other tauopathies.

Source: Graham, D.L. et al. Neuropharmacology 79, 307-313 (2014).