. Reducing the RNA binding protein TIA1 protects against tau-mediated neurodegeneration in vivo. Nat Neurosci. 2018 Jan;21(1):72-80. Epub 2017 Nov 20 PubMed.


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  1. In this new paper, Wolozin and colleagues provide convincing evidence of neuron rescue in the hippocampus and cortices of P301S-tau transgenic mice, upon TIA1 reduction. Cognition and lifespan are also improved.

    The result that phosphorylated tau is initially decreased but later elevated is very intriguing and could provide important insight into the molecular mechanisms of tau toxicity and cellular defenses to this toxicity. The increase in fibrillar tau and decrease in oligomeric tau with TIA1 reduction is also an interesting result. This effect seems to be quite strong, and combined evidence from IHC, solubility fractioning, and the in vitro experiments are convincing.

    A role for stress granules now extends to tauopathies, and TIA1 may represent a new therapeutic target. 

    View all comments by Aaron Gitler
  2. The Wolozin lab furthers the investigation of their original finding that tau complexes with TIA1-positive stress granules (Vanderweyde et al., 2016). In this extension, they show that knocking down TIA1 improves outcomes in P301S mice. The careful and thorough characterization of these effects in a novel mouse model lends credence to the importance of stress granule formation and their prevention in tau pathogenesis. Compared to P301SxTIA+/+, PS19 TIA1 knockdown mice (P301SxTIA1+/-) showed improved cognition, extended lifespan, reduced neuronal and synaptic loss, and decreased cytoplasmic stress granules.

    A striking mechanistic finding was that TIA1 knockdown shifted tau species from oligomeric to fibrillar conformations. A major implication of this finding is that TIA1-tau complexes could participate in protein synthesis by regulating RNA-ribosome stability. Formation of pathological stress granules, structures replete with RNA, ribosomes, and distinct RNA-binding proteins, could serve as centers of cell protection by sequestering RNA and reducing translation under stress. As described in 1989 by the Binder group (Papasozomenos, 1989), tau associates with ribosomes, but the consequences of this interaction were unknown; using in vitro models, our group showed that tau impaired ribosomal function (Meier et al., 2016). However, more mechanistic insight is sorely missing. The specific recruitment of TIA1 to a tau-containing stress granule coalesces a mechanism of RNA regulation that participates in disease.

    Hints of tau-RNA associations date back to 1975, when Bryan et al. demonstrated that RNA interferes with microtubule stabilization (Bryan et al., 1975). Nearly 20 years later, the Mandelkow groups solidified the impact of polyanions, and RNA in particular, with the formation of PHF1 fibrils (Kampers  et al., 1996). Apicco et al. coalesce these and other fundamental studies solidifying the emerging concept of a role for tau in RNA regulation. Yet this role is more complex than anticipated. For example, recent studies show that monomeric tau stabilizes cytoplasmic RNA while oligomeric tau conformers destroy RNA (Violet et al., 2015; Bou Samra et al., 2017). Whether stress granule dynamics contribute to this mechanism remains unknown. It would be exciting to find that TIA1 serves as a conduit for the regulation of tau monomer equilibrium, and this in turn governs RNA stability.

    Another implication of the shift between fibrillar and oligomeric tau pools as a consequence of TIA1 knockdown is that molecular chaperones and co-chaperones could be recruited to drive this process. Indeed, work from the Hutton, Petrucelli, and Dickey labs, among others, has demonstrated the crucial role of molecular chaperones in regulating tau aggregation dynamics (Petrucelli et al., 2004; Dickey et al., 2005). The oligomer-to-fibril balance could be a concerted response by which stress granules form and recruit chaperones to manage the equilibrium.

    The emergence of this field is moving at a fast pace, as it has for other diseases where liquid droplet abnormalities are evident (e.g. FTLD and ALS). While the findings presented by the Wolozin lab are unique to tau, targeted abrogation of TIA1 in other disease processes sharing similar mechanisms could be a promising therapeutic angle. The fact that knockdown and not knockout of TIA1 offered neuroprotection gives hope that chemical targeting of TIA1 could offer benefits to patients suffering from these devastating disorders without complete ablation of TIA1.

    As any thought-provoking study, the data nudges the field to answer deeper questions about this mechanism. For example, how are tau-TIA1 granules formed and are they reversible? What is the consequence of tau-TIA1 complex formation, and importantly, what impact does it have on translation? Are there other targetable stress granule proteins that modulate tau pathogenesis? Answering these questions will undoubtedly help the field leap forward into designing new therapeutic strategies and offer key understanding of the molecular mechanisms driving RNA translation. 


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    View all comments by Joe Abisambra
  3. This is an interesting and intriguing study from the Wolozin group, which builds on their previous work showing that tau participates in stress granule assembly and that the persistence of stress granules can promote tau aggregation (Vanderweyde et al., 2016). In this current study, the authors crossed Tia1 knockout mice with P301S mutant tau transgenic animals and showed that haploinsufficiency of the RNA-binding protein TIA1 reduced stress granule formation, and protected against tau-medicated synapse loss and cognitive defects. Despite this neuroprotective role, TIA1 reduction remarkably accelerated tau phosphorylation and neurofibrillary tangle accumulation in the P301S tau transgenic animals. However, the authors reconcile this paradoxical finding by showing that the loss of TIA1 in these mice reduced levels of the more soluble and toxic oligomeric tau species. This shed light on a potential mechanism underlying the neuroprotective role of TIA1. To follow up this finding, the authors used in vitro assays to show that TIA1 directly inhibits tau fibrillization and, in exchange, increases tau oligomerization. This study is timely as recent evidence now indicates that tau alone can also undergo liquid-liquid phase separation (Ambadipudi et al., 2017; Zhang et al., 2017), analogous to RNA-binding proteins (e.g. TDP-43, FUS, and TIA1) that aggregate in neurodegenerative disease. Collectively, these studies begin to provide important mechanistic insight into how RNA-binding proteins may act to regulate tau aggregation properties in AD and other tauopathies.

    Notably, mass spectrometry based proteomic analysis of the “tau oligomer” cortical fractions showed enrichment for a number of RNA-binding proteins (i.e. DDX6 and PABP) in the P301S tau mice with normal TIA1 levels compared to the Tia1 haploinsufficient mice. This suggests that RNA-binding proteins act synergistically to promote tau oligomerization and toxicity. These results are particularly interesting in light of our own research, where we have shown that U1 small nuclear ribonucleoprotein 70 kDa (U1-70K) and other core components of the spliceosome complex associate with tau and neurofibrillary tangles in AD detergent-insoluble aggregates in human cases of AD (Bai et al., 2013; Hales et al., 2016). Thus, future studies that seek to assess how specific RNA-binding proteins impact tau aggregation in vivo will be critical in resolving tau pathophysiology.


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    . Liquid-liquid phase separation of the microtubule-binding repeats of the Alzheimer-related protein Tau. Nat Commun. 2017 Aug 17;8(1):275. PubMed.

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    . U1 small nuclear ribonucleoprotein complex and RNA splicing alterations in Alzheimer's disease. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2013 Oct 8;110(41):16562-7. PubMed.

    . Changes in the detergent-insoluble brain proteome linked to amyloid and tau in Alzheimer's Disease progression. Proteomics. 2016 Dec;16(23):3042-3053. PubMed.

    View all comments by Nicholas Seyfried

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  1. Stress Granule Protein Stabilizes Tau Oligomers, Hastens Neurodegeneration