Mechanical injuries of neurons induce tau mislocalization to dendritic spines and tau-dependent synaptic dysfunction

Nicholas J Braun, Katherine R. Yao, Patrick W. Alford, Dezhi Liao

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

28 Scopus citations


Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) is associated with repeated traumatic brain injuries (TBI) and is characterized by cognitive decline and the presence of neurofibrillary tangles (NFTs) of the protein tau in patients’ brains. Here we provide direct evidence that cell-scale mechanical deformation can elicit tau abnormalities and synaptic deficits in neurons. Using computational modeling, we find that the early pathological loci of NFTs in CTE brains are regions of high deformation during injury. The mechanical energy associated with high-strain rate deformation alone can induce tau mislocalization to dendritic spines and synaptic deficits in cultured rat hippocampal neurons. These cellular changes are mediated by tau hyperphosphorylation and can be reversed through inhibition of GSK3β and CDK5 or genetic deletion of tau. Together, these findings identify a mechanistic pathway that directly relates mechanical deformation of neurons to tau-mediated synaptic impairments and provide a possibly exploitable therapeutic pathway to combat CTE.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)29069-29079
Number of pages11
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number46
StatePublished - Nov 17 2020

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  • Traumatic brain injuries | dendritic spines | tau | chronic traumatic encephalopathy | synaptic deficits


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