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J Biol Chem. 2002 Feb 15;277(7):5411-7. Epub 2001 Nov 27.

Formation and removal of alpha-synuclein aggregates in cells exposed to mitochondrial inhibitors.

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  • 1Parkinson's Institute, Sunnyvale, California 94089, USA.


Mitochondrial dysfunction has been associated with Parkinson's disease. However, the role of mitochondrial defects in the formation of Lewy bodies, a pathological hallmark of Parkinson's disease has not been addressed directly. In this report, we investigated the effects of inhibitors of the mitochondrial electron-transport chain on the aggregation of alpha-synuclein, a major protein component of Lewy bodies. Treatment with rotenone, an inhibitor of complex I, resulted in an increase of detergent-resistant alpha-synuclein aggregates and a reduction in ATP level. Another inhibitor of the electron-transport chain, oligomycin, also showed temporal correlation between the formation of aggregates and ATP reduction. Microscopic analyses showed a progressive evolution of small aggregates of alpha-synuclein to a large perinuclear inclusion body. The inclusions were co-stained with ubiquitin, 20 S proteasome, gamma-tubulin, and vimentin. The perinuclear inclusion bodies, but not the small cytoplasmic aggregates, were thioflavin S-positive, suggesting the amyloid-like conformation. Interestingly, the aggregates disappeared when the cells were replenished with inhibitor-free medium. Disappearance of aggregates coincided with the recovery of mitochondrial metabolism and was partially inhibited by proteasome inhibitors. These results suggest that the formation of alpha-synuclein inclusions could be initiated by an impaired mitochondrial function and be reversed by restoring normal mitochondrial metabolism.

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