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Year : 2022  |  Volume : 17  |  Issue : 8  |  Page : 1645-1651

Phosphorylated tau as a toxic agent in synaptic mitochondria: implications in aging and Alzheimer’s disease

Laboratory of Neurobiology of Aging, Centro de Biología Celular y Biomedicina (CEBICEM), Facultad de Medicina y Ciencia, Universidad San Sebastián, Sede Los Leones, Santiago, Chile

Correspondence Address:
Cheril Tapia-Rojas
Laboratory of Neurobiology of Aging, Centro de Biología Celular y Biomedicina (CEBICEM), Facultad de Medicina y Ciencia, Universidad San Sebastián, Sede Los Leones, Santiago
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Source of Support: This work was supported by FONDECYT, No. 11170546, CONICYT PAI, No. 77170091 (to CTR) and FONDECYT, No. 3210591 (to CJ), Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/1673-5374.332125

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During normal aging, there is a decline in all physiological functions in the organism. One of the most affected organs is the brain, where neurons lose their proper synaptic function leading to cognitive impairment. Aging is one of the main risk factors for the development of neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease. One of the main responsible factors for synaptic dysfunction in aging and neurodegenerative diseases is the accumulation of abnormal proteins forming aggregates. The most studied brain aggregates are the senile plaques, formed by Aβ peptide; however, the aggregates formed by phosphorylated tau protein have gained relevance in the last years by their toxicity. It is reported that neurons undergo severe mitochondrial dysfunction with age, with a decrease in adenosine 5′-triphosphate production, loss of the mitochondrial membrane potential, redox imbalance, impaired mitophagy, and loss of calcium buffer capacity. Interestingly, abnormal tau protein interacts with several mitochondrial proteins, suggesting that it could induce mitochondrial dysfunction. Nevertheless, whether tau-mediated mitochondrial dysfunction occurs indirectly or directly is still unknown. A recent study of our laboratory shows that phosphorylated tau at Ser396/404 (known as PHF-1), an epitope commonly related to pathology, accumulates inside mitochondria during normal aging. This accumulation occurs preferentially in synaptic mitochondria, which suggests that it may contribute to the synaptic failure and cognitive impairment seen in aged individuals. Here, we review the main tau modifications promoting mitochondrial dysfunction, and the possible mechanism involved. Also, we discuss the evidence that supports the possibility that phosphorylated tau accumulation in synaptic mitochondria promotes synaptic and cognitive impairment in aging. Finally, we show evidence and argue about the presence of phosphorylated tau PHF-1 inside mitochondria in Alzheimer’s disease, which could be considered as an early event in the neurodegenerative process. Thus, phosphorylated tau PHF-1 inside the mitochondria could be considered such a potential therapeutic target to prevent or attenuate age-related cognitive impairment.

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