Frontotemporal dementia with parkinsonism, chromosome 17 type (FTDP-17) is caused by mutations in the tau gene, and the signature lesions of FTDP-17 are filamentous tau inclusions. Tau mutations may be pathogenic either by altering protein function or gene regulation. Here we show that missense, silent, and intronic tau mutations can increase or decrease splicing of tau exon 10 (E10) by acting on 3 different cis-acting regulatory elements. These elements include an exon splicing enhancer that can either be strengthened (mutation N279K) or destroyed (mutation Δ280K), resulting in either constitutive E10 inclusion or the exclusion of E10 from tau transcripts. E10 contains a second regulatory element that is an exon splicing silencer, the function of which is abolished by a silent FTDP-17 mutation (L284L), resulting in excess E10 inclusion. A third element inhibiting E10 splicing is contained in the intronic sequences directly flanking the 5′ splice site of E10 and intronic FTDP-17 mutations in this element enhance E10 inclusion. Thus, tau mutations cause FTDP-17 by multiple pathological mechanisms, which may explain the phenotypic heterogeneity observed in FTDP-17, as exemplified by an unusual family described here with tau pathology as well as amyloid and neuritic plaques
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