Tau post-translational modifications (PTMs) are associated with progressive tau accumulation and neuronal loss in tauopathies, including forms of frontotemporal lobar degeneration (FTLD) and Alzheimer disease (AD). Proteolytic cleavage of tau by active caspases, including caspase-6, represents an underexplored tau PTM implicated in tau pathology. Caspase-cleaved tau is toxic and prone to self-aggregation in experimental models. To elucidate the presence and temporal course of caspase activation, tau cleavage, and neuronal death, we generated two neoepitope monoclonal antibodies (mAbs) against caspase-6 tau proteolytic sites and cortical neurons from induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) with the frontotemporal dementia (FTD)-causing V337M MAPT mutation. FTLD V337M MAPT and AD postmortem brains showed positivity for both cleaved tau mAbs as well as active caspase-6. Relative to isogenic wild-type MAPT controls, V337M MAPT neurons showed a time-dependent increase in pathogenic tau in the form of tau oligomers, caspase-cleaved tau, and p-tau. Accumulation of toxic tau species in 3-month V337M MAPT neurons also increased vulnerability to stress, which was pharmacologically rescued by caspase inhibition. We propose a model in which time-dependent accumulation of caspase-cleaved tau in V337M MAPT neurons promotes neurotoxicity that is reversed by caspase-6 inhibition. Caspase-cleaved tau may be a biomarker of tauopathy, and caspases could be viable targets for therapeutic intervention against tau pathogenesis in FTLD and other tauopathies.
bioRxiv Subject Collection: Neuroscience