The protein tau and its isoforms are associated with several neurodegenerative diseases, many of which are characterized by greater deposition of the 4-repeat (4R) tau isoform; however, the role of 4R tau in disease pathogenesis remains unclear. We created antisense oligonucleotides (ASOs) that alter the ratio of 3R to 4R tau to investigate the role of specific tau isoforms in disease. Preferential expression of 4R tau in human tau–expressing (hTau-expressing) mice was previously shown to increase seizure severity and phosphorylated tau deposition without neuronal or synaptic loss. In this study, we observed strong colocalization of 4R tau within reactive astrocytes and increased expression of pan-reactive and neurotoxic genes following 3R to 4R tau splicing ASO treatment in hTau mice. Increasing 4R tau levels in primary astrocytes provoked a similar response, including a neurotoxic genetic profile and diminished homeostatic function, which was replicated in human induced pluripotent stem cell–derived (iPSC-derived) astrocytes harboring a mutation that exhibits greater 4R tau. Healthy neurons cultured with 4R tau–expressing human iPSC–derived astrocytes exhibited a higher firing frequency and hypersynchrony, which could be prevented by lowering tau expression. These findings support a potentially novel pathway by which astrocytic 4R tau mediates reactivity and dysfunction and suggest that astrocyte-targeted therapeutics against 4R tau may mitigate neurodegenerative disease progression.
Lubov A. Ezerskiy, Kathleen M. Schoch, Chihiro Sato, Mariana Beltcheva, Kanta Horie, Frank Rigo, Ryan Martynowicz, Celeste M. Karch, Randall J. Bateman, Timothy M. Miller
4R tau expression in astrocytes leads to a reactive phenotype in vivo.