Dexmedetomidine directly increases tau phosphorylation

Chunxia Huang, Yuen Shan Ho, Olivia Tsz Wa Ng, Michael G. Irwin, Raymond Chuen Chung Chang, Gordon Tin Chun Wong

Research output: Journal article publicationJournal articleAcademic researchpeer-review

9 Citations (Scopus)


Exposure to anesthetic agents has been linked to abnormal tau protein phosphorylation, an antecedent to the development of neurofibrillary tangles. This study evaluates the direct and indirect effects of dexmedetomidine. Primary culture of cortical neurons established from Sprague-Dawley (SD) rat embryos were exposed to dexmedetomidine for 1 or 6 hours, and the degree of tau phosphorylation at the AT8, AT180, and S396 sites was assessed by western blot analysis. To assess and compare their relative in vivo effects, the same agent was administered intravenously to 8 to 10 week old male SD rats and titrated to the loss of the righting reflex for 2 hours. After 1 hour of recovery, the rats were sacrificed and samples taken from the cortex and hippocampus were subjected to western blot and immunohistochemical analysis. The in vitro studies reviewed significant hyperphosphorylation only at the S396 site, and these changes have largely disappeared at 6 hours. With temperature maintenance, dexmedetomidine induced significant changes in hyperphosphorylation at the AT8 site in the cortex and hippocampus and at the AT180 in the hippocampus. The direct effect of anesthetic agents on fully differentiated cortical neurons is epitope-specific and short-lived. The in vivo effects are comparatively more complicated and depend not only on the phosphorylation site but the regions of the brain examined. These findings suggest that dexmedetomidine increases tau phosphorylation both in vitro and in vivo under normothermic conditions, and further studies are warranted to determine the long-term impact of this anesthetic on the tau pathology and even cognitive function.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)839-850
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Alzheimer's Disease
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2015


  • Anesthetics
  • dexmedetomidine
  • hypothermia
  • protein kinases
  • tau phosphorylation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Clinical Psychology
  • Geriatrics and Gerontology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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