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Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2004 Dec;1035:250-70.

The role of alpha-synuclein in both neuroprotection and neurodegeneration.

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Department of Pediatrics, Georgetown University, Washington, DC 20007, USA.


Although alpha-synuclein is a central player in the pathophysiology of the dopaminergic neurodegeneration that occurs in Parkinson's disease (PD), emerging results suggest that the fundamental property of the wild-type form of this protein may be one of neuroprotection, as it can inhibit apoptosis in response to various pro-apoptotic stimuli. Such properties may be lost by its familial PD-linked mutations upon alterations in its expression levels or clearance (overexpression of the gene, reduced protein degradation) or following exposure to certain neurotoxins. Moreover, converging observations suggest that a primary function for alpha-synuclein in dopaminergic neurons may be the regulation of dopamine content and tone at the synapse. In this paper, we review how, indeed, alpha-synuclein regulates both the synthesis of dopamine, its storage into vesicles, its release in the synapse, and its re-uptake into the dopaminergic neurons. We also show how disruption of these events, and of the neuroprotective effects of alpha-synuclein, can initiate the observed neurotoxicity of alpha-synuclein in dopaminergic neurons and the genesis of the degenerative processes associated with PD.

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