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Am J Pathol. 2007 May;170(5):1725-38.

Calpain-cleavage of alpha-synuclein: connecting proteolytic processing to disease-linked aggregation.

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  • 1Department of Biology, Boise State University, Boise, ID 83725, USA.


Parkinson's disease (PD) and dementia with Lewy bodies (DLB) are both characterized pathologically by the presence of neuronal inclusions termed Lewy bodies (LBs). A common feature found in LBs are aggregates of alpha-synuclein (alpha-Syn), and although it is now recognized that alpha-Syn is the major building block for these toxic filaments, the mechanism of how this occurs remains unknown. In the present study, we demonstrate that proteolytic processing of alpha-Syn by the protease calpain I leads to the formation of aggregated high-molecular weight species and adoption of a beta-sheet structure. To determine whether calpain-cleavage of alpha-Syn occurs in PD and DLB, we designed site-directed calpain-cleavage antibodies to alpha-Syn and tested their utility in several animal model systems. Detection of calpain-cleaved alpha-Syn was evident in mouse models of cerebral ischemia and PD and in a Drosophila model of PD. In the human PD and DLB brain, calpain-cleaved alpha-Syn antibodies immunolabeled LBs and neurites in the substantia nigra. Moreover, calpain-cleaved alpha-Syn fragments identified within LBs colocalized with activated calpain in neurons of the PD and DLB brains. These findings suggest that calpain I may participate in the disease-linked aggregation of alpha-Syn in various alpha-synucleinopathies.

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