Updated: Oct 20
In the field of neurodegenerative diseases, one protein has garnered significant attention: alpha-synuclein. It plays a crucial role in regulating synaptic vesicle trafficking and neurotransmitter release within neuronal cells. While alpha-synuclein is primarily found in the brain, it is also present in smaller amounts in other tissues, including the heart.
The Intricacies of Alpha-Synuclein:
Under certain conditions, alpha-synuclein undergoes a structural change, transitioning from a soluble form to insoluble fibrils. These fibrils have a propensity to aggregate, forming clumps known as Lewy bodies. These Lewy bodies are considered a pathological hallmark of synucleinopathies, a group of neurodegenerative diseases that includes Parkinson's disease, dementia with Lewy bodies, and multiple system atrophy.
The Role of Lewy Bodies:
Lewy bodies are believed to be involved in the progression of neurodegenerative diseases. While their exact mechanisms of toxicity are not fully understood, it is hypothesized that these clumps of alpha-synuclein may impair normal cellular function and trigger detrimental effects within the brain. Moreover, there is emerging evidence suggesting that Lewy bodies can spread from one neuron to another, contributing to the propagation of disease throughout the brain.
Parkinson's Disease and Alpha-Synuclein:
In Parkinson's disease, Lewy bodies primarily accumulate in certain brain regions involved in movement control. The loss of dopamine-producing cells in these areas leads to the characteristic motor symptoms of Parkinson's, such as tremors, rigidity, and bradykinesia. While the exact cause of Parkinson's disease remains elusive, the presence of alpha-synuclein pathology is a key feature in its diagnosis.
Advancing Research and Future Perspectives:
Understanding the role of alpha-synuclein in neurodegenerative diseases has become a significant area of research. Scientists are exploring ways to prevent the aggregation of alpha-synuclein and promote its clearance, with the hope of developing potential therapeutic strategies to slow down or halt the progression of synucleinopathies.
Alpha-synuclein, a protein involved in synaptic function, takes centre stage in the study of neurodegenerative diseases. The formation of Lewy bodies, composed of aggregated alpha-synuclein, is a common feature in conditions such as Parkinson's disease, dementia with Lewy bodies, and multiple system atrophy. While the precise mechanisms behind their toxicity and propagation remain subjects of investigation, unravelling the complexities of alpha-synuclein could pave the way for new insights, diagnostic tools, and therapeutic interventions in the fight against these devastating diseases.
Discover the key to a fulfilling life as you grow older. In my latest blog post, I share insights on healthy living and aging gracefully - Healthy Aging, Healthy Life - By Dr Domenico Pratico
Domenico Praticò, MD, is the Scott Richards North Star Charitable Foundation Chair for Alzheimer’s Research, Professor and Director of the Alzheimer’s Center at Temple, and Professor of Pharmacology at the Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University