The microtubule-binding protein tau has been implicated in the neurofibrillary pathology of Alzheimer's disease. Within affected cells, ubiquitinated and hyperphosphorylated tau assembles into massive filamentous polymers. Eventually these tangle-bearing neurons die. The formation of neurofibrillary tangles closely parallels the progression and anatomic distribution of neuronal loss in Alzheimer's disease, suggesting that these lesions play a role in the disease pathogenesis. Mutations in the human tau gene cause autosomal dominant neurodegenerative disorders. These and other neurodegenerative conditions are also characterized by extensive neurofibrillary pathology. The mechanisms underlying tau-mediated neurotoxicity remain unclear; however, phosphorylated tau is a strong candidate for a toxic molecule, particularly those isoforms phosphorylated by the kinases glycogen synthase kinase 3beta and Cdk5. Here we show that Alzheimer tau binds to Hsc70, and its phosphorylation is a recognition requirement for the addition of ubiquitin (Ub) by the E3 Ub ligase CHIP (carboxyl terminus of the Hsc70-interacting protein) and the E2 conjugating enzyme UbcH5B. Other E3 Ub ligases including parkin and Cbl failed to ubiquitinate phosphorylated tau. CHIP could rescue phosphorylated tau-induced cell death, and therefore the CHIP-Hsc70 complex may provide a new therapeutic target for the tauopathies.
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