Two C-terminal sequence variations determine differential neurotoxicity between human and mouse α-synuclein

Natalie Landeck, Katherine E. Strathearn, Daniel Ysselstein, Kerstin Buck, Sayan Dutta, Siddhartha Banerjee, Zhengjian Lv, John D. Hulleman, Jagadish Hindupur, Li Kai Lin, Sonal Padalkar, Lia A. Stanciu, Yuri L. Lyubchenko, Deniz Kirik, Jean Christophe Rochet

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


Background: α-Synuclein (aSyn) aggregation is thought to play a central role in neurodegenerative disorders termed synucleinopathies, including Parkinson's disease (PD). Mouse aSyn contains a threonine residue at position 53 that mimics the human familial PD substitution A53T, yet in contrast to A53T patients, mice show no evidence of aSyn neuropathology even after aging. Here, we studied the neurotoxicity of human A53T, mouse aSyn, and various human-mouse chimeras in cellular and in vivo models, as well as their biochemical properties relevant to aSyn pathobiology. Methods: Primary midbrain cultures transduced with aSyn-encoding adenoviruses were analyzed immunocytochemically to determine relative dopaminergic neuron viability. Brain sections prepared from rats injected intranigrally with aSyn-encoding adeno-associated viruses were analyzed immunohistochemically to determine nigral dopaminergic neuron viability and striatal dopaminergic terminal density. Recombinant aSyn variants were characterized in terms of fibrillization rates by measuring thioflavin T fluorescence, fibril morphologies via electron microscopy and atomic force microscopy, and protein-lipid interactions by monitoring membrane-induced aSyn aggregation and aSyn-mediated vesicle disruption. Statistical tests consisted of ANOVA followed by Tukey's multiple comparisons post hoc test and the Kruskal-Wallis test followed by a Dunn's multiple comparisons test or a two-tailed Mann-Whitney test. Results: Mouse aSyn was less neurotoxic than human aSyn A53T in cell culture and in rat midbrain, and data obtained for the chimeric variants indicated that the human-to-mouse substitutions D121G and N122S were at least partially responsible for this decrease in neurotoxicity. Human aSyn A53T and a chimeric variant with the human residues D and N at positions 121 and 122 (respectively) showed a greater propensity to undergo membrane-induced aggregation and to elicit vesicle disruption. Differences in neurotoxicity among the human, mouse, and chimeric aSyn variants correlated weakly with differences in fibrillization rate or fibril morphology. Conclusions: Mouse aSyn is less neurotoxic than the human A53T variant as a result of inhibitory effects of two C-terminal amino acid substitutions on membrane-induced aSyn aggregation and aSyn-mediated vesicle permeabilization. Our findings highlight the importance of membrane-induced self-assembly in aSyn neurotoxicity and suggest that inhibiting this process by targeting the C-terminal domain could slow neurodegeneration in PD and other synucleinopathy disorders.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number49
JournalMolecular neurodegeneration
Issue number1
StatePublished - Sep 8 2020


  • Adeno-associated virus
  • Aggregation
  • Alpha-synuclein
  • Amyloid
  • Fibril
  • Membrane
  • Neurodegeneration
  • Parkinson's disease
  • Phospholipid
  • Synucleinopathy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Biology
  • Clinical Neurology
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience


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