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J Biol Chem. 2008 Apr 4;283(14):9089-100. doi: 10.1074/jbc.M710012200. Epub 2008 Feb 1.

Mitochondrial import and accumulation of alpha-synuclein impair complex I in human dopaminergic neuronal cultures and Parkinson disease brain.

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  • 1Department of Animal Biology, School of Veterinary Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, 3800 Spruce Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104, USA.


Alpha-synuclein, a protein implicated in the pathogenesis of Parkinson disease (PD), is thought to affect mitochondrial functions, although the mechanisms of its action remain unclear. In this study we show that the N-terminal 32 amino acids of human alpha-synuclein contain cryptic mitochondrial targeting signal, which is important for mitochondrial targeting of alpha-synuclein. Mitochondrial imported alpha-synuclein is predominantly associated with the inner membrane. Accumulation of wild-type alpha-synuclein in the mitochondria of human dopaminergic neurons caused reduced mitochondrial complex I activity and increased production of reactive oxygen species. However, these defects occurred at an early time point in dopaminergic neurons expressing familial alpha-synuclein with A53T mutation as compared with wild-type alpha-synuclein. Importantly, alpha-synuclein that lacks mitochondrial targeting signal failed to target to the mitochondria and showed no detectable effect on complex I function. The PD relevance of these results was investigated using mitochondria of substantia nigra, striatum, and cerebellum of postmortem late-onset PD and normal human brains. Results showed the constitutive presence of approximately 14-kDa alpha-synuclein in the mitochondria of all three brain regions of normal subjects. Mitochondria of PD-vulnerable substantia nigra and striatum but not cerebellum from PD subjects showed significant accumulation of alpha-synuclein and decreased complex I activity. Analysis of mitochondria from PD brain and alpha-synuclein expressing dopaminergic neuronal cultures using blue native gel electrophoresis and immunocapture technique showed the association of alpha-synuclein with complex I. These results provide evidence that mitochondrial accumulated alpha-synuclein may interact with complex I and interfere with its functions.

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