The neuronal microtubule-associated protein tau is required for the development of cell polarity in cultured neurons. Using PC12 cells that stably express tau and tau amino-terminal fragments, we report that tau interacts with the neural plasma membrane through its amino-terminal projection domain. In differentiated PC12 transfectants, tau is found in growth cone-like structures in a nonmicrotubule-dependent manner. In hippocampal neurons, tau is differentially extracted by detergent and enriched in the growth cone and the distal axon when membrane is left intact. In PC12 transfectants, overexpression of tau's amino-terminal fragment, but not of full-length tau, suppresses NGF-induced process formation. Our data suggest that tau's amino-terminal projection domain has an important role in neuritic development and establishes tau as a mediator of microtubule-plasma membrane interactions.

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