The usual suspects, dopamine and alpha-synuclein, conspire to cause neurodegeneration.
Parkinson's disease (PD) is primarily a movement disorder driven by the loss of dopamine-producing neurons in the substantia nigra (SN). Early identification of the oxidative properties of dopamine implicated it as a potential source of oxidative stress in PD, yet few studies have investigated dopamine neurotoxicity in vivo. The discovery of PD-causing mutations in α-synuclein and the presence of aggregated α-synuclein in the hallmark Lewy body pathology of PD revealed another important player. Despite extensive efforts, the precise role of α-synuclein aggregation in neurodegeneration remains unclear. We recently manipulated both dopamine levels and α-synuclein expression in aged mice and found that only the combination of these 2 factors caused progressive neurodegeneration of the SN and an associated motor deficit. Dopamine modified α-synuclein aggregation in the SN, resulting in greater abundance of α-synuclein oligomers and unique dopamine-induced oligomeric conformations. Furthermore, disruption of the dopamine-α-synuclein interaction rescued dopaminergic neurons from degeneration in transgenic Caenorhabditis elegans models. In this Perspective, we discuss these findings in the context of known α-synuclein and dopamine biology, review the evidence for α-synuclein oligomer toxicity and potential mechanisms, and discuss therapeutic implications. © 2019 International Parkinson and Movement Disorder Society.
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