The microtubule-associated protein tau aggregates into filaments in the form of neurofibrillary tangles, neuropil threads and argyrophilic grains in neurons, in the form of variable astrocytic tangles in astrocytes and in the form of coiled bodies and argyrophilic threads in oligodendrocytes. These tau filaments may be classified into two types, straight filaments or tubules with 9-18 nm diameters and "twisted ribbons" composed of two parallel aligned components. In the same disease, the fine structure of tau filaments in glial cells roughly resembles that in neurons. In sporadic tauopathies, individual tau filaments show characteristic sizes, shapes and arrangements, and therefore contribute to neuropathologic differential diagnosis. In frontotemporal dementias caused by tau gene mutations, variable filamentous profiles were observed in association with mutation sites and insoluble tau isoforms, including straight filaments or tubules, paired helical filament-like filaments, and twisted ribbons. Pre-embedding immunoelectron microscopic studies were carried out using anti-3-repeat tau and anti-4-repeat tau specific antibodies, RD3 and RD4. Straight tubules in neuronal and astrocytic Pick bodies were immunolabeled by the anti-3-repeat tau antibody. The anti-4-repeat tau antibody recognized abnormal tubules comprising neurofibrillary tangles, coiled bodies and argyrophilic threads in progressive supranuclear palsy (PSP) and corticobasal degeneration. In the pre-embedding immunoelectron microscopic study using the phosphorylated tau AT8 antibody, tuft-shaped astrocytes of PSP were found to be composed of bundles of abnormal tubules in processes and perikarya of protoplasmic astrocytes. In this study, the 3-repeat tau or 4-repeat tau epitope was detected in situ at the ultrastructural level in abnormal tubules in representative pathological lesions in Pick's disease, PSP and corticobasal degeneration.