Human molecular genetics

A DNA damage-activated checkpoint kinase phosphorylates tau and enhances tau-induced neurodegeneration.

PMID 20159774


Hyperphosphorylation of the microtubule associated protein tau is detected in the brains of individuals with a range of neurodegenerative diseases including Alzheimer's disease (AD). An imbalance in phosphorylation and/or dephosphorylation of tau at disease-related sites has been suggested to initiate the abnormal metabolism and toxicity of tau in disease pathogenesis. However, the mechanisms underlying abnormal phosphorylation of tau in AD are not fully understood. Here, we show that the DNA damage-activated Checkpoint kinase 2 (Chk2) is a novel tau kinase and enhances tau toxicity in a transgenic Drosophila model. Overexpression of Drosophila Chk2 increases tau phosphorylation at Ser262 and enhances tau-induced neurodegeneration in transgenic flies expressing human tau. The non-phosphorylatable Ser262Ala mutation abolishes Chk2-induced enhancement of tau toxicity, suggesting that the Ser262 phosphorylation site is involved in the enhancement of tau toxicity by Chk2. In vitro kinase assays revealed that human Chk2 and a closely related checkpoint kinase 1 (Chk1) directly phosphorylate human tau at Ser262. We also demonstrate that Drosophila Chk2 does not modulate the activity of the fly homolog of microtubule affinity regulating kinase, which has been shown to be a physiological tau Ser262 kinase. Since accumulation of DNA damage has been detected in the brains of AD patients, our results suggest that the DNA damage-activated kinases Chk1 and Chk2 may be involved in tau phosphorylation and toxicity in the pathogenesis of AD.