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Acta Neuropathol Commun. 2019 Mar 14;7(1):41. doi: 10.1186/s40478-019-0696-4.

Pathogenic alpha-synuclein aggregates preferentially bind to mitochondria and affect cellular respiration.

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Center for Neurodegenerative Science, Van Andel Research Institute, 333 Bostwick Avenue N.E, Grand Rapids, MI, 49503, USA.
Department of Pathology, University of Michigan Medical School, Ann Arbor, MI48109, USA.
Center for Neurodegenerative Science, Van Andel Research Institute, 333 Bostwick Avenue N.E, Grand Rapids, MI, 49503, USA.


Misfolded alpha-synuclein (αSyn) is a major constituent of Lewy bodies and Lewy neurites, which are pathological hallmarks of Parkinson's disease (PD). The contribution of αSyn to PD is well established, but the detailed mechanism remains obscure. Using a model in which αSyn aggregation in primary neurons was seeded by exogenously added, preformed αSyn amyloid fibrils (PFF), we found that a majority of pathogenic αSyn (indicated by serine 129 phosphorylated αSyn, ps-αSyn) was membrane-bound and associated with mitochondria. In contrast, only a minuscule amount of physiological αSyn was mitochondrial bound. In vitro, αSyn PFF displayed a stronger binding to purified mitochondria than did αSyn monomer, revealing a preferential mitochondria binding by aggregated αSyn. This selective mitochondrial ps-αSyn accumulation was confirmed in other neuronal and animal αSyn aggregation models that do not require exogenously added PFF and, more importantly, in postmortem brain tissues of patients suffering from PD and other neurodegenerative diseases with αSyn aggregation (α-synucleinopathies). We also showed that the mitochondrial ps-αSyn accumulation was accompanied by defects in cellular respiration in primary neurons, suggesting a link to mitochondrial dysfunction. Together, our results show that, contrary to physiological αSyn, pathogenic αSyn aggregates preferentially bind to mitochondria, indicating mitochondrial dysfunction as the common downstream mechanism for α-synucleinopathies. Our findings suggest a plausible model explaining the formation and the peculiar morphology of Lewy body and reveal that disrupting the interaction between ps-αSyn and the mitochondria is a therapeutic target for α-synucleinopathies.


Aggregation; Lewy body; Mitochondria; PFF; Parkinson’s disease; α-Synuclein; α-Synucleinopathies

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