Progressive supranuclear palsy (PSP) is a movement disorder characterized by tau neuropathology where the underlying mechanism is unknown. An SNP (rs1768208 C/T) has been identified as a strong risk factor for PSP. Here, we identified a much higher T-allele occurrence and increased levels of the pro-apoptotic protein appoptosin in PSP patients. Elevations in appoptosin correlate with activated caspase-3 and caspase-cleaved tau levels. Appoptosin overexpression increased caspase-mediated tau cleavage, tau aggregation, and synaptic dysfunction, whereas appoptosin deficiency reduced tau cleavage and aggregation. Appoptosin transduction impaired multiple motor functions and exacerbated neuropathology in tau-transgenic mice in a manner dependent on caspase-3 and tau. Increased appoptosin and caspase-3-cleaved tau were also observed in brain samples of patients with Alzheimer's disease and frontotemporal dementia with tau inclusions. Our findings reveal a novel role for appoptosin in neurological disorders with tau neuropathology, linking caspase-3-mediated tau cleavage to synaptic dysfunction and behavioral/motor defects.
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