Neurodegenerative disorders referred to as tauopathies have cellular hyperphosphorylated tau protein aggregates in the absence of amyloid deposits. Comparative biochemistry of tau aggregates shows that they differ in both phosphorylation and content of tau isoforms. The six tau isoforms found in human brain contain either three (3R) or four microtubule-binding domains (4R). In Alzheimer's disease, all six tau isoforms are abnormally phosphorylated and aggregate into paired helical filaments. They are detected by immunoblotting as a major tau triplet (tau55, 64 and 69). In corticobasal degeneration and progressive supranuclear palsy, only 4R-t.au isoforms aggregate into twisted and straight filaments respectively. They appear as a major tau doublet (tau64 and 69). Finally, in Pick's disease, only 3R-tau isoforms aggregate into random coiled filaments. They are characterized by another major tau doublet (tau55 and 64). These differences in tau isoforms may be related to either the degeneration of particular cell populations in a given disorder or aberrant cell trafficking of particular tau isoforms. Finally, recent findings provide a direct link between a genetic defect in tau and its abnormal aggregation into filaments in fronto-temporal dementia with Parkinsonism linked to chromosome 17, demonstrating that tau aggregation is sufficient for nerve cell degeneration. Thus, tau mutations and polymorphisms may also be instrumental in many neurodegenerative disorders.