Abnormal hyperphosphorylation of tau is believed to lead to neurofibrillary degeneration in Alzheimer's disease (AD) and other tauopathies. Recent studies have shown that protein phosphatases (PPs) PP1, PP2A, PP2B and PP5 dephosphorylate tau in vitro, but the exact role of each of these phosphatases in the regulation of site-specific phosphorylation of tau in the human brain was unknown. Hence, we investigated the contributions of these PPs to the regulation of tau phosphorylation quantitatively. We found that these four phosphatases all dephosphorylated tau at Ser199, Ser202, Thr205, Thr212, Ser214, Ser235, Ser262, Ser396, Ser404 and Ser409, but with different efficiencies toward different sites. The Km values of tau dephosphorylation catalysed by PP1, PP2A and PP5 were 8–12 µm, similar to the intraneuronal tau concentration of human brain, whereas the Km of PP2B was fivefold higher. PP2A, PP1, PP5 and PP2B accounted for ∼ 71%, ∼ 11%, ∼ 10% and ∼ 7%, respectively, of the total tau phosphatase activity of human brain. The total phosphatase activity and the activities of PP2A and PP5 toward tau were significantly decreased, whereas that of PP2B was increased in AD brain. PP2A activity negatively correlated to the level of tau phosphorylation at the most phosphorylation sites in human brains. Our findings indicate that PP2A is the major tau phosphatase that regulates its phosphorylation at multiple sites in human brain. The abnormal hyperphosphorylation of tau is partially due to a downregulation of PP2A activity in AD brain.