Recent studies have shed light on the functions of alpha-synuclein, a protein well-known for its role in Parkinson’s disease and other related neurological conditions, and now a major target for potential drug therapies.
The normal functions of alpha-synuclein have remained unclear for a long time. In previous studies, researchers at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine found that alpha-synuclein diminishes neurotransmitter release, suppressing communication among neurons. However, researchers were unable to figure out exactly how the protein functioned.
In a recent study, Harvard University researchers reported that alpha-synuclein self-assembles multiple copies of itself inside neurons, contrary to the previous notion that the protein worked on its own. Also, a new paper from the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine published in Current Biology explains how these groups of alpha-synuclein, or multimers, might function in neurons.
Researchers confirmed that these multimers congregate at synapses, where they help cluster synaptic vesicles and restrict their mobility, essentially restricting neurotransmission.
Normally, alpha-synuclein manages communication between neurons. However, it is possible that with diseases like Parkinson’s, abnormal levels of the protein lead to a heightened suppression of neurotransmission and synaptic toxicity.
“Though this is obviously not the only event contributing to overall disease neuropathology, it might be one of the very first triggers, nudging the synapse to a point of no return,” lead researcher Subhojit Roy, MD, PhD, said.
Dr. Roy noted that this has made alpha-synuclein a major target for potential drug therapies seeking to change its levels and activity.
This study looks at the protein alpha-synuclein, which is a well-known player in Parkinson’s disease and other related neurological conditions, such as dementia with Lewy bodies. Alpha-synuclein typically resides at presynaptic terminals, the communication hubs of neurons where neurotransmitters are released to other neurons. Reserachers found that groups of the protein, known as multimers, can restrict neurotransmissions.