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J Neurosci. 2003 Apr 15;23(8):3095-9.

Alpha-synuclein overexpression protects against paraquat-induced neurodegeneration.

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The Parkinson's Institute, Sunnyvale, California 94089-1605, USA.


Alpha-synuclein is likely to play a role in neurodegenerative processes, including the degeneration of nigrostriatal dopaminergic neurons that underlies Parkinson's disease. However, the toxicological properties of alpha-synuclein remain relatively unknown. Here, the relationship between alpha-synuclein expression and neuronal injury was studied in mice exposed to the herbicide paraquat. Paraquat neurotoxicity was compared in control animals versus mice with transgenic expression of human alpha-synuclein driven by the tyrosine hydroxylase (TH) promoter. In control mice, paraquat caused both the formation of alpha-synuclein-containing intraneuronal deposits and the degeneration of nigrostriatal neurons, as demonstrated by silver staining and a reduction of the counts of TH-positive and Nissl-stained cells. Mice overexpressing alpha-synuclein, either the human wild-type or the Ala53Thr mutant form of the protein, displayed paraquat-induced protein aggregates but were completely protected against neurodegeneration. These resistant animals were also characterized by increased levels of HSP70, a chaperone protein that has been shown to counteract paraquat toxicity in other experimental models and could therefore contribute to neuroprotection in alpha-synuclein transgenic mice. The results indicate a dissociation between toxicant-induced alpha-synuclein deposition and neurodegeneration. They support a role of alpha-synuclein against toxic insults and suggest that its involvement in human neurodegenerative processes may arise not only from a gain of toxic function, as previously proposed, but also from a loss of defensive properties.

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