Alterations in situ in the phosphorylation state of the microtubule-associated protein tau were examined in response to increasing intracellular levels of Ca2+ through N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA)-receptor activation, or activating cyclic AMP (cAMP)-dependent protein kinase (cAMP-PK), in rat cerebral-cortical slices. Increasing intracellular concentrations of Ca2+ by treatment of the brain slices with the glutamate analogue NMDA in depolarizing conditions (55 mM KCl) resulted in dephosphorylation of tau. Addition of KCl+NMDA to the slices resulted in a 40% decrease in 32P incorporation into tau, whereas addition of KCl or NMDA alone had no effect on tau phosphorylation. The KCl+NMDA-induced dephosphorylation of tau was blocked by the non-competitive NMDA-receptor antagonist MK801. Determine the involvement of the Ca2+/calmodulin-dependent phosphatase, calcineurin, in the KCl+NMDA-induced dephosphorylation of tau, slices were pretreated with the calcineurin inhibitor Cyclosporin A. Pretreatment of the rat brain slices with Cyclosporin A completely abolished the dephosphorylation of tau induced by the addition of KCl+NMDA. The dephosphorylation of tau in situ was site-selective, as indicated by the loss of 32P label from only a few select peptides. Activation of cAMP-PK by stimulating adenylate cyclase in rat cerebral-cortical slices with forskolin resulted in a 73% increase over control levels in 32P incorporation into immunoprecipitated tau. Two-dimensional phosphopeptide mapping revealed that most of the sites on tau phosphorylated in brain slices in response to increased cAMP levels were the same as those phosphorylated on isolated tau by purified cAMP-PK. Although the state of tau phosphorylation is certainly regulated by many protein phosphatases and kinases in vivo, to our knowledge this study provides the first direct evidence of a specific protein phosphatase and kinase that modulate the phosphorylation state of tau in situ.

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