Activity-dependent release of phosphorylated human tau from Drosophila neurons in primary culture

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Neuronal activity can enhance tau release and thus accelerate tauopathies. This activity-dependent tau release can be used to study the progression of tau pathology in Alzheimer’s disease (AD), as hyperphosphorylated tau is implicated in AD pathogenesis and related tauopathies. However, our understanding of the mechanisms that regulate activity-dependent tau release from neurons and the role that tau phosphorylation plays in modulating activity-dependent tau release is still rudimentary. In this study, Drosophila neurons in primary culture expressing human tau (hTau) were used to study activity-dependent tau release. We found that hTau release was markedly increased by 50 mM KCl treatment for 1 h. A similar level of release was observed using optogenetic techniques, where genetically targeted neurons were stimulated for 30 min using blue light (470 nm). Our results showed that activity-dependent release of phosphoresistant hTauS11A was reduced when compared with wildtype hTau. In contrast, release of phosphomimetic hTauE14 was increased upon activation. We found that released hTau was phosphorylated in its proline-rich and C-terminal domains using phosphorylation site-specific tau antibodies (e.g., AT8). Fold changes in detectable levels of total or phosphorylated hTau in cell lysates or following immunopurification from conditioned media were consistent with preferential release of phosphorylated hTau after light stimulation. This study establishes an excellent model to investigate the mechanism of activity-dependent hTau release and to better understand the role of phosphorylated tau release in the pathogenesis of AD since it relates to alterations in the early stage of neurodegeneration associated with increased neuronal activity.