Hyperphosphorylation and aggregation of the microtubule binding protein tau is a neuropathological hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease/tauopathies. Tau neurotoxicity provokes alterations in brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF)/tropomycin receptor kinase B (TRKB)/cAMP-response-element binding protein (CREB) signaling to contribute to neurodegeneration. Compounds activating TRKB may therefore provide beneficial effects in tauopathies. LM-031, a coumarin derivative, has demonstrated the potential to improve BDNF signaling in neuronal cells expressing pro-aggregated ΔK280 tau mutant. In this study, we investigated if LM-031 analogous compounds provide neuroprotection effects through interaction with TRKB in SH-SY5Y cells expressing ΔK280 tauRD-DsRed folding reporter. All four LMDS compounds reduced tau aggregation and reactive oxygen species. Among them, LMDS-1 and -2 reduced caspase-1, caspase-6 and caspase-3 activities and promoted neurite outgrowth, and the effect was significantly reversed by knockdown of TRKB. Treatment of ERK inhibitor U0126 or PI3K inhibitor wortmannin decreased p-CREB, BDNF and BCL2 in these cells, implying that the neuroprotective effects of LMDS-1/2 are via activating TRKB downstream ERK, PI3K-AKT and CREB signaling. Furthermore, LMDS-1/2 demonstrated their ability to quench the intrinsic fluorescence of tryptophan residues within the extracellular domain of TRKB, thereby consolidating their interaction with TRKB. Our results suggest that LMDS-1/2 exert neuroprotection through activating TRKB signaling, and shed light on their potential application in therapeutics of Alzheimer’s disease/tauopathies.
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