Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is characterized by the progressive degeneration of motor neurons. There is a pathological and genetic link between ALS and frontotemporal lobar degeneration (FTLD). Although FTLD is characterized by abnormal phosphorylated tau deposition, it is unknown whether tau is phosphorylated in ALS motor neurons. Therefore, this study assessed tau epitopes that are commonly phosphorylated in FTLD, including serine 396 (pS396), 214 (pS214), and 404 (pS404) in motor neurons from clinically pure sporadic ALS cases compared with controls. In ALS lower motor neurons, tau pS396 was observed in the nucleus or the nucleus and cytoplasm. In ALS upper motor neurons, tau pS396 was observed in the nucleus, cytoplasm, or both the nucleus and cytoplasm. Tau pS214 and pS404 was observed only in the cytoplasm of upper and lower motor neurons in ALS. The number of motor neurons (per mm2) positive for tau pS396 and pS214, but not pS404, was significantly increased in ALS. Furthermore, there was a significant loss of phosphorylated tau-negative motor neurons in ALS compared with controls. Together, our data identified a complex relationship between motor neurons positive for tau phosphorylated at specific residues and disease duration, suggesting that tau phosphorylation plays a role in ALS.
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