Novel human neuronal tau model exhibiting neurofibrillary tangles and transcellular propagation

Patrick Reilly, Charisse N. Winston, Kelsey R. Baron, Margarita Trejo, Edward M. Rockenstein, Johnny C. Akers, Najla Kfoury, Marc Diamond, Eliezer Masliah, Robert A. Rissman, Shauna H. Yuan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

38 Scopus citations


Tauopathies are a class of neurodegenerative diseases, including Alzheimer's disease, frontotemporal dementia and progressive supranuclear palsy, which are associated with the pathological aggregation of tau protein into neurofibrillary tangles (NFT). Studies have characterized tau as a “prion-like” protein given its ability to form distinct, stable amyloid conformations capable of transcellular and multigenerational propagation in clonal fashion. It has been proposed that progression of tauopathy could be due to the prion-like propagation of tau, suggesting the possibility that end-stage pathologies, like NFT formation, may require an instigating event such as tau seeding. To investigate this, we applied a novel human induced pluripotent stem cell (hiPSC) system we have developed to serve as a human neuronal model. We introduced the tau repeat domain (tau-RD) with P301L and V337M (tau-RD-LM) mutations into hiPSC-derived neurons and observed expression of tau-RD at levels similar to total tau in postmortem AD brains. Tau aggregation occurred without the addition of recombinant tau fibrils. The conditioned media from tau-RD cultures contained tau-RD seeds, which were capable of inducing aggregate formation in homotypic mode in non-transduced recipient neuronal cultures. The resultant NFTs were thioflavin-positive, silver stain-positive, and assumed fibrillary appearance on transmission electron microscopy (TEM) with immunogold, which revealed paired helical filament 1 (PHF1)-positive NFTs, representing possible recruitment of endogenous tau in the aggregates. Functionally, expression of tau-RD caused neurotoxicity that manifested as axon retraction, synaptic density reduction, and enlargement of lysosomes. The results of our hiPSC study were reinforced by the observation that Tau-RD-LM is excreted in exosomes, which mediated the transfer of human tau to wild-type mouse neurons in vivo. Our hiPSC human neuronal system provides a model for further studies of tau aggregation and pathology as well as a means to study transcellular propagation and related neurodegenerative mechanisms.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)222-234
Number of pages13
JournalNeurobiology of Disease
StatePublished - Oct 2017


  • Exosomes
  • Induced pluripotent stem cells
  • Neurofibrillary tangles
  • Propagation
  • Tau

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neurology


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