The prion-like properties of assembled human alpha-synuclein
The pathological hallmark of many age-related neurodegenerative diseases is the presence of proteinaceous inclusions in nerve cells and glial cells. Alpha-synuclein is the main component of the inclusions of Parkinson’s disease, dementia with Lewy bodies and multiple system atrophy, as well as of rarer diseases, collectively called synucleinopathies. For a long time, it was widely believed that neurodegenerative diseases were cell-autonomous; however, a more recent hypothesis has suggested that some misfolded proteins resemble prions. Thus, aggregated alpha-synuclein shares features of PrPSc, the scrapie form of the prion protein.
The aim of this thesis was to further characterize the prion-like properties of aggregated alpha-synuclein by studying the pathways of seeded aggregation, and to identify the species of alpha-synuclein responsible. I present evidence, using a HEK 293T cell model, that filamentous protein was the most seed-potent form of alpha-synuclein. Recombinant aggregated protein, aggregated alpha-synuclein from mice transgenic for A53T alpha-synuclein, as well as alpha-synuclein aggregates from Parkinson’s disease and multiple system atrophy brains, seeded aggregation.
The mechanisms of alpha-synuclein internalization and intracellular trafficking, and how these processes affect seeded aggregation, are not fully understood. I showed that internalization of alpha-synuclein aggregates occurs through clathrin- and dynamin-independent, Cdc42-, actin- and PI3K-dependent endocytosis. Alpha-synuclein aggregates are trafficked to the endolysosomal pathway; a small fraction of lysosomes ruptures, which induces aggregation of expressed cytoplasmic alpha-synuclein, and disruption of autophagy, which in turn enhances seeded aggregation.
These findings expand knowledge of the prion-like properties of assembled alpha-synuclein and identify novel mechanisms with therapeutic potential.