Alpha-synuclein up-regulation in substantia nigra dopaminergic neurons following administration of the parkinsonian toxin MPTP

M Vila, S Vukosavic, V Jackson-Lewis, M Neystat, M Jakowec, S Przedborski
Journal of Neurochemistry 2000, 74 (2): 721-9
Mutations in alpha-synuclein cause a form of familial Parkinson's disease (PD), and wild-type alpha-synuclein is a major component of the intraneuronal inclusions called Lewy bodies, a pathological hallmark of PD. These observations suggest a pathogenic role for alpha-synuclein in PD. Thus far, however, little is known about the importance of alpha-synuclein in the nigral dopaminergic pathway in either normal or pathological situations. Herein, we studied this question by assessing the expression of synuclein-1, the rodent homologue of human alpha-synuclein, in both normal and 1-methyl-4-phenyl-1,2,3,6-tetrahydropyridine (MPTP)-intoxicated mice. In normal mice, detectable levels of synuclein mRNA and protein were seen in all brain regions studied and especially in ventral midbrain. In the latter, there was a dense synuclein-positive nerve fiber network, which predominated over the substantia nigra, and only few scattered synuclein-positive neurons. After a regimen of MPTP that kills dopaminergic neurons by apoptosis, synuclein mRNA and protein levels were increased significantly in midbrain extracts; the time course of these changes paralleled that of MPTP-induced dopaminergic neurodegeneration. In these MPTP-injected mice, there was also a dramatic increase in the number of synuclein-immunoreactive neurons exclusively in the substantia nigra pars compacta; all synuclein-positive neurons were tyrosine hydroxylase-positive, but none coexpressed apoptotic features. These data indicate that synuclein is highly expressed in the nigrostriatal pathway of normal mice and that it is up-regulated following MPTP-induced injury. In light of the synuclein alterations, it can be suggested that, by targeting this protein, one may modulate MPTP neurotoxicity and, consequently, open new therapeutic avenues for PD.

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