Tag Archives: alpha-synuclein

Researchers have used a non-invasive method of observing how the process leading to Parkinson’s disease takes place at the nanoscale, and identified the point in the process at which proteins in the brain become toxic, eventually leading to the death of brain cells.

The results suggest that the same protein can either cause, or protect against, the toxic effects that lead to the death of brain cells, depending on the specific structural form it takes, and that toxic effects take hold when there is an imbalance of the level of protein in its natural form in a cell. The work could help unravel how and why people develop Parkinson’s, and aid in the search for potential treatments. The study is published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Using super-resolution microscopy, researchers were able to observe the behaviour of different types of alpha-synuclein, a protein closely associated with Parkinson’s disease, in order to find how it affects neurons, and at what point it becomes toxic.

Parkinson’s disease is one of a number of neurodegenerative diseases caused when naturally occurring proteins fold into the wrong shape and stick together with other proteins, eventually forming thin filament-like structures called amyloid fibrils. These amyloid deposits of aggregated alpha-synuclein, also known as Lewy bodies, are the hallmark of Parkinson’s disease.

Parkinson’s disease is the second-most common neurodegenerative disease worldwide (after Alzheimer’s disease). More than seven million people worldwide have the disease. Symptoms include muscle tremors, stiffness and difficulty walking. Dementia is common in later stages of the disease.

The researchers used different forms of alpha-synuclein and observed their behaviour in neurons from rats. They were then able to correlate what they saw with the amount of toxicity that was present.

They found that when they added alpha-synuclein fibrils to the neurons, they interacted with alpha-synuclein protein that was already in the cell, and no toxic effects were present.

The researchers then observed that by adding the soluble form of alpha-synuclein together with amyloid fibrils, the toxic effect of the former could be overcome. It appeared that the amyloid fibrils acted like magnets for the soluble protein and mopped up the soluble protein pool, shielding against the associated toxic effects.

The research shows how important it is to fully understand the processes at work behind neurodegenerative diseases, so that the right step in the process can be targeted.

Source: Adapted from materials provided by the University of Cambridge
“Nanoscopic insights into seeding mechanisms and toxicity of α-synuclein species in neurons”

Scientists have solved a longstanding problem with modeling Parkinson’s disease in animals. Using newfound insights, they improve both cell and animal models for the disease, which can propel research and drug development.

Parkinson’s disease is characterized by the appearance of protein clumps within neurons in the brain, called Lewy bodies. Reproducing Lewy bodies in animals in order to model the disease for research and drug screening has proven notoriously difficult, leaving a gap in Parkinson’s research and treatment. Scientists have now shown where the discrepancy between humans and animals lies. Using the knowledge, the scientists have produced cellular and mouse models that reproduce the evolution of Parkinson’s disease more accurately for both fundamental research and drug development. The work is published in PNAS.

In humans, Lewy bodies form when the brain produces twice the normal amount of alpha-synuclein. When mice, which are often used to model human diseases, are used to model Parkinson’s, they are genetically engineered to overproduce it. But human alpha-synuclein does not form fibrils and Lewy bodies when produced in mice.

Mice produce three types of their own synuclein, which are similar to human alpha-synuclein. Because of this, they are referred to as its “homologues”. The researchers found that human alpha-synuclein does not form Lewy bodies in mice because its homologues in the animal prevent it from doing so. This discovery explains why it is so difficult to model Parkinson’s disease in normal mice, which have all of their synuclein homologues. In other words, the key to successfully modeling the disease in mice is to genetically suppress their homologues of human alpha-synuclein.

Working off their genetically engineered mice and neuronal cultures, the team developed and characterized new models for Lewy bodies for the scientific and medical community. Hilal Lashuel expects that the new insights will advance the development of neuronal and in vivo models that reproduce features of Parkinson’s disease, and allow screening for new drugs. “We now have a very well-characterized model that offers a powerful tool for rapid screening of molecular pathways involved in Parkinson’s disease,” he says.

Source: École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne

A laboratory study indicates that the main protein involved in Parkinson’s disease pathology does not behave as a prion when overexpressed.

In Parkinson’s disease, the protein alpha-synuclein aggregates within neurons of patients and appears to propagate across interconnected areas of the brain. How this happens remains largely unknown. It has been proposed that alpha-synuclein may behave like a prion: pathological forms of the protein may be capable of changing the conformation of normal alpha-synuclein and thus triggering its aggregation and neuron-to-neuron propagation (a phenomenon referred to as “seeding”). Recent findings by scientists reveal that aggregation, spreading and pathology caused by alpha-synuclein do not necessarily involve prion-like seeding. Instead, they could be triggered by enhanced alpha-synuclein expression and trans-neuronal passage of monomeric and oligomeric forms of the protein.

“We believe that these findings bear a number of important implications for disease pathogenesis. Not only can we conclude that long-distance diffusion of alpha-synuclein does not necessarily require the generation of prion-like species,” said researcher Donato Di Monte. “Our data also reveal that spreading and pathology can be triggered by simple overexpression of the protein and are mediated, at least initially, by monomeric and/or oligomeric alpha-synuclein.”

Researchers report on this in the journal Brain.


Source: DZNE