Indexed on: 27 Oct '11Published on: 27 Oct '11Published in: Human molecular genetics
Tauopathies, characterized by neurofibrillary tangles (NFTs) of phosphorylated tau proteins, are a group of neurodegenerative diseases, including frontotemporal dementia and both sporadic and familial Alzheimer's disease. Forebrain-specific over-expression of human tau(P301L), a mutation associated with frontotemporal dementia with parkinsonism linked to chromosome 17, in rTg4510 mice results in the formation of NFTs, learning and memory impairment and massive neuronal death. Here, we show that the mRNA and protein levels of NMNAT2 (nicotinamide mononucleotide adenylyltransferase 2), a recently identified survival factor for maintaining neuronal health in peripheral nerves, are reduced in rTg4510 mice prior to the onset of neurodegeneration or cognitive deficits. Two functional cAMP-response elements (CREs) were identified in the nmnat2 promoter region. Both the total amount of phospho-CRE binding protein (CREB) and the pCREB bound to nmnat2 CRE sites in the cortex and the hippocampus of rTg4510 mice are significantly reduced, suggesting that NMNAT2 is a direct target of CREB under physiological conditions and that tau(P301L) overexpression down-regulates CREB-mediated transcription. We found that over-expressing NMNAT2 or its homolog NMNAT1, but not NMNAT3, in rTg4510 hippocampi from 6 weeks of age using recombinant adeno-associated viral vectors significantly reduced neurodegeneration caused by tau(P301L) over-expression at 5 months of age. In summary, our studies strongly support a protective role of NMNAT2 in the mammalian central nervous system. Decreased endogenous NMNAT2 function caused by reduced CREB signaling during pathological insults may be one of underlying mechanisms for neuronal death in tauopathies.