Effect of Parkinson’s disease-related alpha-synuclein abnormalities on the maturation of distinct iPSC-derived neuronal populations

Change log
Santivanez Perez, Jessica Andrea 

Parkinson’s disease (PD) is the second most common age-related neurodegenerative condition. It is neuropathologically characterised by the presence of Lewy pathology and the degeneration of the midbrain dopaminergic neurons from the substantia nigra pars compacta. Lewy pathology mainly consists of filamentous aggregated alpha-synuclein and familial forms of PD can be caused by genetic alternations in the SNCA gene encoding alpha-synuclein. Alpha-synuclein is primarily localised to neuronal presynaptic terminals and has been implicated in the maintenance of synaptic function. Studies have proposed that it regulates the docking, fusion, clustering and trafficking of neurotransmitter-loaded presynaptic vesicles. Nowadays, it is possible to model PD in vitro by obtaining adult somatic cells from patients, reprogramming them into induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs), and differentiating iPSCs into neurons. For this project, iPSCs derived from two PD patients, one harbouring the A53T SNCA mutation, the other a SNCA triplication, and three healthy individuals, were employed. In the initial stage, I optimised a neuronal differentiation protocol originally developed for human embryonic stem cells to produce neurons belonging to two distinct brain regions affected in PD, the forebrain and midbrain, from the available human iPSC lines. Next, I assessed the maturation of the generated neurons over time using protein expression and electrophysiological techniques. Finally, I examined PD-related phenotypes such as alpha-synuclein aggregation and release, susceptibility to cell death, and the redistribution of presynaptic proteins. All the iPSC lines used gave rise to forebrain and midbrain neuronal cultures. Maturation was similar across lines, as no consistent differences were observed in the changes of the expression of 4 repeat tau isoforms, presynaptic protein levels or electrophysiological properties over time. However, the emergence of astrocytes varied between cultures derived from distinct iPSC lines. No robust differences in alpha-synuclein release and susceptibility to cell death were detected between patient- and control-derived neurons. Apart from the presence of larger alpha-synuclein-positive puncta in patient-derived neurons, no other signs of alpha-synuclein aggregation were detected. Despite this, midbrain patient-derived neurons with a SNCA triplication exhibited a significant redistribution of presynaptic protein VAMP-2/synaptobrevin-2, which interacts with alpha-synuclein, relative to controls.

Spillantini, Maria Grazia
Paulsen, Ole
Alpha-synuclein, Parkinson's Disease, iPSCs, Neurodegeneration
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Awarding Institution
University of Cambridge
Gates Cambridge Selwyn College