AMPK is abnormally activated in tangle- and pre-tangle-bearing neurons in Alzheimer's disease and other tauopathies.Acta Neuropathol 2011; 121(3):337-49AN
Tauopathies represent a class of neurodegenerative disorders characterized by abnormal tau phosphorylation and aggregation into neuronal paired helical filaments (PHFs) and neurofibrillary tangles. AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK) is a metabolic sensor expressed in most mammalian cell types. In the brain, AMPK controls neuronal maintenance and is overactivated during metabolic stress. Here, we show that activated AMPK (p-AMPK) is abnormally accumulated in cerebral neurons in 3R+4R and 3R tauopathies, such as Alzheimer's disease (AD), tangle-predominant dementia, Guam Parkinson dementia complex, Pick's disease, and frontotemporal dementia with parkinsonism linked to chromosome 17, and to a lesser extent in some neuronal and glial populations in the 4R tauopathies, progressive supranuclear palsy (PSP), corticobasal degeneration (CBD), and argyrophilic grain disease. In AD brains, p-AMPK accumulation decorated neuropil threads and dystrophic neurites surrounding amyloid plaques, and appeared in more than 90% of neurons bearing pre-tangles and tangles. Granular p-AMPK immunoreactivity was also observed in several tauopathies in apparently unaffected neurons devoid of tau inclusion, suggesting that AMPK activation preceded tau accumulation. Less p-AMPK pathology was observed in PSP and CBD, where minimal p-AMPK accumulation was also found in tangle-positive glial cells. p-AMPK was not found in purified PHFs, indicating that p-AMPK did not co-aggregate with tau in tangles. Finally, in vitro assays showed that AMPK can directly phosphorylate tau at Thr-231 and Ser-396/404. Thus, activated AMPK abnormally accumulated in tangle- and pre-tangle-bearing neurons in all major tauopathies. By controlling tau phosphorylation, AMPK might regulate neurodegeneration and therefore could represent a novel common determinant in tauopathies.