Nav: Home

Cofilin may be early culprit in tauopathy process leading to brain cell death

May 14, 2019

TAMPA, Fla. -- The two primary hallmarks of Alzheimer's disease are clumps of sticky amyloid-beta (Aβ) protein fragments known as amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles of a protein called tau. Abnormal accumulations of both proteins are needed to drive the death of brain cells, or neurons. But scientists still have a lot to learn about how amyloid impacts tau to promote widespread neurotoxicity, which destroys cognitive abilities like thinking, remembering and reasoning in patients with Alzheimer's.

While investigating the molecular relationship between amyloid and tau, University of South Florida neuroscientists discovered that the Aβ-activated enzyme cofilin plays an essential intermediary role in worsening tau pathology.

Their latest preclinical study was reported March 22, 2019 in Communications Biology.

The research introduces a new twist on the traditional view that adding phosphates to tau (known as phosphorylation) is the most important early event in tau's detachment from brain cell-supporting microtubules and its subsequent build-up into neurofibrillary tangles. These toxic tau tangles disrupt brain cells' ability to communicate, eventually killing them.

"We identified for the first time that cofilin binds to microtubules at the expense of tau - essentially kicking tau off the microtubules and interfering with tau-induced microtubule assembly. And that promotes tauopathy, the aggregation of tau seen in neurofibrillary tangles," said senior author David Kang, PhD, a professor of molecular medicine at the USF Health Morsani College of Medicine and director of basic research at Byrd Alzheimer's Center, USF Health Neuroscience Institute.

Dr. Kang also holds the Fleming Endowed Chair in Alzheimer's Research at USF Health and is a biological scientist at James A. Haley Veterans' Administration Hospital. Alexa Woo, PhD, assistant professor of molecular pharmacology and physiology and member of the Byrd Alzheimer's Center, was the study's lead author.

The study builds upon previous work at USF Health showing that Aβ activates cofilin through a protein known as Slingshot, or SSH1. Since both cofilin and tau appear to be required for Aβ neurotoxicity, in this paper the researchers probed the potential link between tau and cofilin.

The microtubules that provide structural support inside neurons were at the core of their series of experiments.

Without microtubules, axons and dendrites could not assemble and maintain the elaborate, rapidly changing shapes needed for neural network communication, or signaling. Microtubules also function as highly active railways, transporting proteins, energy-producing mitochondria, organelles and other materials from the body of the brain cell to distant parts connecting it to other cells. Tau molecules are like the railroad track ties that stabilize and hold train rails (microtubules) in place.

Using a mouse model for early-stage tauopathy, Dr. Kang and his colleagues showed that Aβ-activated cofilin promotes tauopathy by displacing the tau molecules directly binding to microtubules, destabilizes microtubule dynamics, and disrupts synaptic function (neuron signaling) -- all key factors in Alzheimer's disease progression. Unactivated cofilin did not.

The researchers also demonstrated that genetically reducing cofilin helped prevent the tau aggregation leading to Alzheimer's-like brain damage in mice.

"Our data suggests that cofilin kicks tau off the microtubules, a process that possibly begins even before tau phosphorylation," Dr. Kang said. "That's a bit of a reconfiguration of the canonical model of how the pathway leading to tauopathy works."

Since cofilin activation is largely regulated by SSH1, an enzyme also activated by Aβ, the researchers propose that inhibiting SSH1 represents a new target for treating Alzheimer's disease or other tauopathies.

Dr. Kang's laboratory is working with James Leahy, PhD, a USF professor of chemistry, and Yu Chen, PhD, a USF Health professor of molecular medicine, on refining several SSH1 inhibitors that show preclinical promise as drug candidates.
-end-
The research described in the Communications Biology paper was supported by grants from the VA, the NIH National Institute on Aging, and the Florida Department of Health.

USF Health's mission is to envision and implement the future of health. It is the partnership of the USF Health Morsani College of Medicine, the College of Nursing, the College of Public Health, the College of Pharmacy, the School of Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation Sciences, the Biomedical Sciences Graduate and Postdoctoral Programs, and the physicians of USF Health, the largest multispecialty group practice on Florida's west coast. The University of South Florida, established in 1956 and located in Tampa, is a high-impact, global research university dedicated to student success. USF ranks in the top 25 nationally for research expenditures among public universities, according to the National Science Foundation. In 2018, the Florida Board of Governors designated USF as a Preeminent State Research University, placing USF in the most elite category among the state's 12 public universities.

University of South Florida (USF Innovation)

Related Protein Articles:

Hi-res view of protein complex shows how it breaks up protein tangles
A new, high-resolution view of the structure of Hsp104 (heat shock protein 104), a natural yeast protein nanomachine with six subunits, may show news ways to dismantle harmful protein clumps in disease.
Breaking the protein-DNA bond
A new Northwestern University study finds that unbound proteins in a cell break up protein-DNA bonds as they compete for the single-binding site.
FASEB Science Research Conference: Protein Kinases and Protein Phosphorylation
This conference focuses on the biology of protein kinases and phosphorylation signaling.
Largest resource of human protein-protein interactions can help interpret genomic data
An international research team has developed the largest database of protein-to-protein interaction networks, a resource that can illuminate how numerous disease-associated genes contribute to disease development and progression.
STAT2: Much more than an antiviral protein
A protein known for guarding against viral infections leads a double life, new research shows, and can interfere with cell growth and the defense against parasites.
More Protein News and Protein Current Events

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Anthropomorphic
Do animals grieve? Do they have language or consciousness? For a long time, scientists resisted the urge to look for human qualities in animals. This hour, TED speakers explore how that is changing. Guests include biological anthropologist Barbara King, dolphin researcher Denise Herzing, primatologist Frans de Waal, and ecologist Carl Safina.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#534 Bacteria are Coming for Your OJ
What makes breakfast, breakfast? Well, according to every movie and TV show we've ever seen, a big glass of orange juice is basically required. But our morning grapefruit might be in danger. Why? Citrus greening, a bacteria carried by a bug, has infected 90% of the citrus groves in Florida. It's coming for your OJ. We'll talk with University of Maryland plant virologist Anne Simon about ways to stop the citrus killer, and with science writer and journalist Maryn McKenna about why throwing antibiotics at the problem is probably not the solution. Related links: A Review of the Citrus Greening...