To date, it has been difficult to elucidate the role of tau in learning and memory during adulthood due to developmental compensation of other microtubule associated proteins in Tau knockout (KO) mice. Here, we generated an adeno-associated virus (AAV) expressing a doxycycline (doxy)-inducible short-hairpin (sh) RNA targeted to tau, and stereotaxically and bilaterally injected 7-month-old C57BL/6 mice with either the AAV-shRNAtau or an AAV expressing a scramble shRNA sequence. Seven days after the injections, all animals were administered doxy for thirty-five days to induce expression of shRNAs, after which they were tested in the open field, rotarod and Morris water maze (MWM) to assess anxiety like behavior, motor coordination and spatial reference memory, respectively. Our results show that reducing tau in the adult hippocampus produces significant impairments in motor coordination, endurance and spatial memory. Tissue analyses shows that tau knockdown reduces hippocampal dendritic spine density and the levels of BDNF and synaptophysin, two proteins involved in memory formation and plasticity. Our approach circumvents the developmental compensation issues observed in Tau KO models and shows that reducing tau levels during adulthood impairs cognition.
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