Caenorhabditis elegans Models to Investigate the Mechanisms Underlying Tau Toxicity in Tauopathies
The understanding of the genetic, biochemical, and structural determinants underlying tau aggregation is pivotal in the elucidation of the pathogenic process driving tauopathies and the design of effective therapies. Relevant information on the molecular basis of human neurodegeneration in vivo can be obtained using the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans (C. elegans). To this end, two main approaches can be applied: the overexpression of genes/proteins leading to neuronal dysfunction and death,
... studies in which proteins prone to misfolding are exogenously administered to induce a neurotoxic phenotype. Thanks to the easy generation of transgenic strains expressing human disease genes, C. elegans allows the identification of genes and/or proteins specifically associated with pathology and the specific disruptions of cellular processes involved in disease. Several transgenic strains expressing human wild-type or mutated tau have been developed and offer significant information concerning whether transgene expression regulates protein production and aggregation in soluble or insoluble form, onset of the disease, and the degenerative process. C. elegans is able to specifically react to the toxic assemblies of tau, thus developing a neurodegenerative phenotype that, even when exogenously administered, opens up the use of this assay to investigate in vivo the relationship between the tau sequence, its folding, and its proteotoxicity. These approaches can be employed to screen drugs and small molecules that can interact with the biogenesis and dynamics of formation of tau aggregates and to analyze their interactions with other cellular proteins.