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EMBO J. 2010 Oct 20;29(20):3571-89. doi: 10.1038/emboj.2010.223. Epub 2010 Sep 14.

Inhibition of mitochondrial fusion by α-synuclein is rescued by PINK1, Parkin and DJ-1.

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  • 1DZNE-German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases,Adolf-Butenandt-Institute, Biochemistry, Ludwig-Maximilians-University, Munich, Germany.


Aggregation of α-synuclein (αS) is involved in the pathogenesis of Parkinson's disease (PD) and a variety of related neurodegenerative disorders. The physiological function of αS is largely unknown. We demonstrate with in vitro vesicle fusion experiments that αS has an inhibitory function on membrane fusion. Upon increased expression in cultured cells and in Caenorhabditis elegans, αS binds to mitochondria and leads to mitochondrial fragmentation. In C. elegans age-dependent fragmentation of mitochondria is enhanced and shifted to an earlier time point upon expression of exogenous αS. In contrast, siRNA-mediated downregulation of αS results in elongated mitochondria in cell culture. αS can act independently of mitochondrial fusion and fission proteins in shifting the dynamic morphologic equilibrium of mitochondria towards reduced fusion. Upon cellular fusion, αS prevents fusion of differently labelled mitochondrial populations. Thus, αS inhibits fusion due to its unique membrane interaction. Finally, mitochondrial fragmentation induced by expression of αS is rescued by coexpression of PINK1, parkin or DJ-1 but not the PD-associated mutations PINK1 G309D and parkin Δ1-79 or by DJ-1 C106A.

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