Graduation Year




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

Degree Granting Department

Medical Sciences

Major Professor

Chad A. Dickey, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Daniel Lee, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Yu Chen, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Danielle Gulick, Ph.D.


aggregates, autophagy, chaperones, Hsp70


Tauopathies are neurodegenerative diseases that affect millions of people around the world. Tauopathies include more than 20 neurodegenerative diseases. Some of the most common tauopathies are Alzheimer’s disease (AD), frontotemporal dementia (FTD), chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), Pick’s disease, corticobasal degeneration, progressive supranuclear palsy (PSP), agyrophillic grain disease, and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). These diseases can cause significant memory loss, behavioral changes, motor deficits and speech impairments. Tauopathies stem from accumulation of the microtubule associated protein tau (MAPT). Tau stabilizes microtubules and helps with axonal transport. In a disease state tau becomes hyperphosphorylated and truncated leading to its aggregation. More recently tau has been shown to propagate from cell to cell potentially acting as a signaling molecule that contributes to disease progression. In addition during disease, tau mislocalizes to dendrites leading to synaptic dysfunction. This mislocalization may also lead to subsequent neurodegeneration.

Today, many strategies have been implemented to treat tauopathies. Some of these strategies include kinase inhibitors, immunotherapy, tau aggregation inhibitors, and microtubule-stabilizing compounds. However none these strategies have been effective in stopping tau pathology nor do they address tau degradation pathways. Therefore we hypothesized that utilizing small molecules that target degradation pathways such as autophagy or proteasomal degradation would improve clearance of aberrant tau.

We previously showed that a natural product (+)-aR,11S-myricanol (1) from Myrica cerifica (bayberry/southern wax myrtle) root bark reduced levels of tau. In this study we discovered that 1 is composed of two enantiomers and two possible atropisomers. We found that one enantiomer (-)-aS,11R-myricanol (3) was responsible for the anti-tau activity of 1 in multiple models of tauopathy. We also found that 3 selectively targets and lowers specific tau species. To better understand how these tau species were being reduced we took a non-biased approach and subjected 3 treated samples to stable isotope labeling by amino acids in cell culture (SILAC) mass spectrometry (MS) proteomic analysis. We found that autophagy pathways were most affected by 3 and that 3 was predicted to mimic the drug rapamycin, a well-established macroautophagy activator. In addition we confirmed our MS findings by simultaneously giving 3 treated cells an autophagy inhibitor which blocked 3’s tau reductions. Moreover we created a tetralin derivative of 1, 13, that produced the same effects on tau as 3 but did not rely upon stereochemistry for its activity. This work supports targeting the autophagy degradation pathway as a viable approach to improving aberrant tau accumulation.

In order to further support our hypothesis, we collected and screened several known heat shock protein 70 (Hsp70) inhibitors and tau aggregation inhibitors for cellular anti-tau activity. While it is known that Hsp70 inhibition facilitates tau clearance through proteasomal degradation, it is not known what role tau aggregation inhibition plays in the cellular degradation of tau. Moreover understanding which inhibitory activity contributes most to tau degradation would lead to the creation of better drug scaffolds. In this study, we found that several Hsp70 inhibitors from different scaffold backbones had varying effects on tau degradation. The rhodacyanine and phenothiazine compounds were most effective at lowering cellular tau while the adenosine analog, sulfonamide, dihyropyrimidine, piperidine-3-carboxamide, phenoxy-N-arylacetamide, and flavonol, were not as effective. We also examined the effects of several tau aggregation inhibitor scaffolds such as the carbocyanine, oleuropein, anthraquinone, aminothienopyridazine, hydroxytyrosol and rhodanine on tau expression reduction. We found that none had effective tau reductions except the carbocyanine. However when we performed a lactate dehydrogenase (LDH) assay, carbocyanine was shown to be extremely toxic. These results lead us to further investigate if the tau expression reducing Hsp70 inhibitors had anti-tau aggregation activity and if the tau aggregation inhibitors had any Hsp70 inhibitory activity. We discovered that many of the Hsp70 inhibitors also had anti-tau aggregation activity while none of the aggregation inhibitors had Hsp70 inhibitory activity. We found a positive correlation between tau expression reductions and anti-tau aggregation activity for the Hsp70 inhibitors. Our work demonstrates that both Hsp70 activity and tau aggregation in vitro best predicts anti-tau activity of small molecules. Also these dual acting Hsp70 inhibitors support our hypothesis that targeting the degradation pathways can improve tau clearance.

Overall, this work indicates the importance of targeting degradation pathways to improve tau clearance. Utilizing small molecules that have dual activities against tau could prove beneficial as a novel therapeutic approach to treat tauopathies. In addition using small molecules that target different degradation pathways simultaneously could be another viable therapeutic strategy for treatment of tauopathies.