Microtubule-associated protein tau is hyperphosphorylated during mitosis in the human neuroblastoma cell line SH-SY5Y

Whitney B. Pope, Mary P. Lambert, Brad Leypold, Rawle Seupaul, Lisa Sletten, Grant Krafft, William L. Klein

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97 Scopus citations


A phosphorylated tau epitope specific for paired helical filaments in Alzheimer’s disease is recognized by monoclonal antibody PHF-1. Healthy adult brains lack the PHF-1 epitope (PHF-1 tau), but it is transiently expressed by immature neurons during development. We have found that proliferating SH-SY5Y human neuroblastoma cells also express PHF-1 tau. Consistent with the recent finding that cell-cycle-dependent kinases can phosphorylate tau in vitro, flow cytometry showed that mitotic SH-SY5Y cells were up to 18-fold more PHF-1 immunoreactive than nonmitotic cells. On immunoblots, PHF-1 tau in mitotic and nonmitotic cells also was strikingly different. First, mitosis induced a prominent PHF-1 reactive band at 120 kDa, which likely accounted for the large increase in PHF-1 signal seen at mitosis. Although the size of the 120-kDa band is consistent with it being the high-molecular-weight form of tau, other antibodies to tau did not recognize it. Second, mitosis caused a hyperphosphorylation of the PHF-1 immunoreactive tau band normally seen at 50 kDa. In mitotic cells this band had an increased intensity and molecular weight. Alkaline phosphatase treatment abolished tau Mr heterogeneity, verifying that the variations in mobility were due to phosphorylation. These data show that cell-cycle-dependent hyperphosphorylation of tau occurs in intact cells, and they support the hypothesis that aberrant activity of cell-cycle-dependent kinases may contribute to tau phosphorylation and PHF formation in Alzheimer’s disease.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)185-194
Number of pages10
JournalExperimental Neurology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 1994

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neurology
  • Developmental Neuroscience


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