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Heparin-induced tau filaments are polymorphic and differ from those in Alzheimer's and Pick's disease

By Wenjuan Zhang, Benjamin Falcon, Alexey G. Murzin, Juan Fan, R. Anthony Crowther, Michel Goedert, Sjors H.W. Scheres

Posted 13 Nov 2018
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/468892 (published DOI: 10.7554/eLife.43584)

The assembly of microtubule-associated protein tau into abundant filamentous inclusions underlies a range of neurodegenerative diseases. The finding that tau filaments adopt different conformations in Alzheimer's and Pick's diseases raises the question of what kinds of structures of tau filaments form in vitro. Here, we used electron cryo-microscopy (cryo-EM) and negative-stain immuno-gold electron microscopy (immuno-EM) to characterise filaments that were assembled from recombinant full-length human tau with four (2N4R) or three (2N3R) microtubule-binding repeats in the presence of heparin. 4R tau assembles into at least four different types of filaments. Cryo-EM structures of three types of 4R filaments reveal similar "kinked hairpin" folds, in which the second and third repeats pack against each other. 3R tau filaments are structurally homogeneous, and adopt a dimeric core, where the third repeats of two tau molecules pack against each other in a parallel, yet asymmetric, manner. None of the heparin-induced tau filaments resemble those of Alzheimer's or Pick's disease, which have larger cores with different repeat compositions. Our results indicate that tau filaments are structurally versatile, and raise questions about the relevance of in vitro assembled amyloids.

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