Coexpression of constitutively active GSK-3beta[S9A] rescued the axonal pathology induced by overexpression of human tau in transgenic mice (Spittaels et al., (2000) J. Biol. Chem. 275, 41340-41349). We isolated dorsal root ganglion (DRG) neuronal cultures from adult tau4R- and tau4R x GSK-3beta-transgenic mice to define the mechanisms at the cellular and subcellular level. DRG from tau4R-transgenics showed a reduced sprouting capacity while density and stability of microtubules in the axonal processes were significantly increased. Video-enhanced contrast microscopy demonstrated a dramatic inhibition of fast axonal transport. Coexpression of GSK-3beta increased tau phosphorylation and reversed the effects on microtubule stability and saltatory motion. In DRG from GSK-3beta single transgenics, increased tau phosphorylation was evident without any major effects on microtubule stability or axonal transport. These observations support the hypothesis that excess tau competed with motor-proteins for binding to microtubules and/or that a rigid microtubular system inhibits axonal transport.