Hypothermia is potently neuroprotective, but the molecular basis of this effect remains obscure. Changes in neuronal tau protein are of interest, since tau becomes hyperphosphorylated in injury-resistant, hypothermic brains. Noting inter-species differences in tau isoforms, we have used functional cortical neurons differentiated from human pluripotent stem cells (hCNs) to interrogate tau modulation during hypothermic preconditioning at clinically-relevant temperatures. Key tau developmental transitions (phosphorylation status and splicing shift) are recapitulated during hCN differentiation and subsequently reversed by mild (32 °C) to moderate (28 °C) cooling — conditions which reduce oxidative and excitotoxic stress-mediated injury in hCNs. Blocking a major tau kinase decreases hCN tau phosphorylation and abrogates hypothermic neuroprotection, whilst inhibition of protein phosphatase 2A mimics cooling-induced tau hyperphosphorylation and protects normothermic hCNs from oxidative stress. These findings indicate a possible role for phospho-tau in hypothermic preconditioning, and suggest that cooling drives human tau towards an earlier ontogenic phenotype whilst increasing neuronal resilience to common neurotoxic insults. This work provides a critical step forward in understanding how we might exploit the neuroprotective benefits of cooling without cooling patients.
- Hypothermia, Preconditioning, Neuroprotection, Tau protein, Protein phosphatase 2A (PP2A), Hyperphosphorylation, Human cortical neuron