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Emerging Evidences For An Implication Of The Neurodegeneration-Associated Protein TAU In Cancer

Stéphanie Papin, Paolo Paganetti

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Neurodegenerative disorders and cancer may appear unrelated illnesses. Yet, epidemiologic studies indicate an inverse correlation between their respective incidences for specific cancers. Possibly explaining these findings, increasing evidence indicates that common molecular pathways are involved, often in opposite manner, in the pathogenesis of both disease families. Genetic mutations in the MAPT gene encoding for TAU protein cause an inherited form of frontotemporal dementia, a neurodegenerative disorder, but also increase the risk of developing cancer. Assigning TAU at the interface between cancer and neurodegenerative disorders, two major aging-linked disease families, offers a possible clue for the epidemiological observation inversely correlating these human illnesses. In addition, the expression level of TAU is recognized as a prognostic marker for cancer, as well as a modifier of cancer resistance to chemotherapy. Because of its microtubule-binding properties, TAU may interfere with the mechanism of action of taxanes, a class of chemotherapeutic drugs designed to stabilize the microtubule network and impair cell division. Indeed, a low TAU expression is associated to a better response to taxanes. Although TAU main binding partners are microtubules, TAU is able to relocate to subcellular sites devoid of microtubules and is also able to bind to cancer-linked proteins, suggesting a role of TAU in modulating microtubule-independent cellular pathways associated to oncogenesis. This concept is strengthened by experimental evidence linking TAU to P53 signaling, DNA stability and protection, processes that protect against cancer. This review aims at collecting literature data supporting the association between TAU and cancer. We will first summarize the evidence linking neurodegenerative disorders and cancer, then published data supporting a role of TAU as a modifier of the efficacy of chemotherapies and of the oncogenic process. We will finish by addressing from a mechanistic point of view the role of TAU in de-regulating critical cancer pathways, including the interaction of TAU with cancer-associated proteins.