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Alpha-synuclein aggregates are phosphatase resistant.

bioRxiv 2024 April 10
UNLABELLED: Alpha-synuclein (αsyn) is an intrinsically disordered protein that aggregates in the brain in several neurodegenerative diseases collectively called synucleinopathies. Phosphorylation of αsyn at serine 129 (PSER129) was considered rare in the healthy human brain but is enriched in pathological αsyn aggregates and is used as a specific marker for disease inclusions. However, recent observations challenge this assumption by demonstrating that PSER129 results from neuronal activity and can be readily detected in the non-diseased mammalian brain. Here, we investigated experimental conditions under which two distinct PSER129 pools, namely endogenous-PSER129 and aggregated-PSER129, could be detected and differentiated in the mammalian brain. Results showed that in the wild-type (WT) mouse brain, perfusion fixation conditions greatly influenced the detection of endogenous-PSER129, with endogenous-PSER129 being nearly undetectable after delayed perfusion fixation (30-minute and 1-hour postmortem interval). Exposure to anesthetics (e.g., Ketamine or xylazine) before perfusion did not significantly influence endogenous-PSER129 detection or levels. In situ, non-specific phosphatase calf alkaline phosphatase (CIAP) selectively dephosphorylated endogenous-PSER129 while αsyn preformed fibril (PFF)-seeded aggregates and genuine disease aggregates (Lewy pathology and Papp-Lantos bodies in Parkinson's disease and multiple systems atrophy brain, respectively) were resistant to CIAP-mediated dephosphorylation. The phosphatase resistance of aggregates was abolished by sample denaturation, and CIAP-resistant PSER129 was closely associated with proteinase K (PK)-resistant αsyn (i.e., a marker of aggregation). CIAP pretreatment allowed for highly specific detection of seeded αsyn aggregates in a mouse model that accumulates non-aggregated-PSER129. We conclude that αsyn aggregates are impervious to phosphatases, and CIAP pretreatment increases detection specificity for aggregated-PSER129, particularly in well-preserved biological samples (e.g., perfusion fixed or flash-frozen mammalian tissues) where there is a high probability of interference from endogenous-PSER129. Our findings have important implications for the mechanism of PSER129-accumulation in the synucleinopathy brain and provide a simple experimental method to differentiate endogenous-from aggregated PSER129.

SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT: Phosphorylated alpha-synuclein (PSER129) was widely regarded as a sensitive, specific marker for pathological aggregates in synucleinopathies until recent data demonstrated that PSER129 is abundant in the healthy mammalian nervous system and results from normal neuronal activity. Differentiating pathological (i.e., aggregated PSER129) and biological (non-aggregated PSER129) has thus become of critical importance to the field. Here, we describe our discovery that aggregated-PSER129 is impervious to enzymatic dephosphorylation. We leverage this discovery to develop a technique (CIAP-PSER129) to detect normal or pathological PSER129 selectively. Our technique allowed us to unambiguously differentiate pathological inclusions in brain regions and mouse models where excessive non-aggregated PSER129 severely limits the sensitivity of aggregate detection. CIAP-PSER129 is nondestructive and compatible with most downstream assays, including mass spectrometry-based peptide identification. These findings have important implications and utility for the synucleinopathy field and may have applicability to other neuropathological proteins (e.g., tau).

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