Defective brain microtubule assembly in Alzheimer's disease.
Brains obtained within 2-4 hours post mortem and histopathologically confirmed for Alzheimer's disease and non-Alzheimer brains from age-matched controls were examined for in-vitro assembly of microtubules and neurofilaments. Microtubule assembly was observed only in control but not in Alzheimer brains, and neurofilaments were obtained from both types of brain. The microtubule-associated protein tau, which stimulates assembly of microtubules from tubulin, was abnormally phosphorylated in Alzheimer but not in control brain microtubule preparations. Alzheimer brains did not show the presence of any inhibitor of microtubule assembly or any abnormality of tubulin. DEAE-dextran, a polycation which mimics tau in stimulating microtubule assembly, induced the assembly of microtubules in Alzheimer brain. Tubulin from both normal and Alzheimer brains was labelled on western blots by a monoclonal antibody to the tyrosinylated carboxy-terminal epitope of alpha tubulin. These studies suggest that in Alzheimer's disease tubulin can be assembled into brain microtubules, but the process is defective, probably because of abnormal phosphorylation of tau. This post-translational alteration of tau might be the cause of the neurofibrillary abnormality in Alzheimer's disease.