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J Biol Chem. 2005 Sep 9;280(36):31664-72. Epub 2005 Jul 14.

A combinatorial code for the interaction of alpha-synuclein with membranes.

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Department of Neurology, Graduate Program in Biomedical Sciences, University of California, San Francisco, California 94143-2140, USA.


Considerable genetic and pathological evidence has implicated the small, soluble protein alpha-synuclein in the pathogenesis of familial and sporadic forms of Parkinsons disease (PD). However, the precise role of alpha-synuclein in the disease process as well as its normal function remain poorly understood. We recently found that an interaction with lipid rafts is crucial for the normal, pre-synaptic localization of alpha-synuclein. To understand how alpha-synuclein interacts with lipid rafts, we have now developed an in vitro binding assay to rafts purified from native membranes. Recapitulating the specificity observed in vivo, recombinant wild type but not PD-associated A30P mutant alpha-synuclein binds to lipid rafts isolated from cultured cells and purified synaptic vesicles. Proteolytic digestion of the rafts does not disrupt the binding of alpha-synuclein, indicating an interaction with lipid rather than protein components of these membranes. We have also found that alpha-synuclein binds directly to artificial membranes whose lipid composition mimics that of lipid rafts. The binding of alpha-synuclein to these raft-like liposomes requires acidic phospholipids, with a preference for phosphatidylserine (PS). Interestingly, a variety of synthetic PS with defined acyl chains do not support binding when used individually. Rather, the interaction with alpha-synuclein requires a combination of PS with oleic (18:1) and polyunsaturated (either 20:4 or 22:6) fatty acyl chains, suggesting a role for phase separation within the membrane. Furthermore, alpha-synuclein binds with higher affinity to artificial membranes with the PS head group on the polyunsaturated fatty acyl chain rather than on the oleoyl side chain, indicating a stringent combinatorial code for the interaction of alpha-synuclein with membranes.

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