Multiple system atrophy (MSA) is a sporadic neurodegenerative disease characterized clinically by varying degrees of Parkinsonism, cerebellar ataxia and autonomic dysfunction and pathologically by degeneration in the substantia nigra, putamen, olivary nucleus, pontine nuclei and cerebellum. In addition to selective neuronal loss, iron pigment accumulation and gliosis, myelin pathology is increasingly recognized. In affected white matter, myelin displays signs of degeneration and oligodendroglia contain argyrophilic inclusion bodies, so-called glial cytoplasmic inclusions (GCI). GCI are composed of 10-15-nm diameter coated filaments that are immunoreactive for ubiquitin and alpha-synuclein. Similar inclusions are occasionally found in neuronal cell bodies and cell processes in MSA. Given the presence of inclusion bodies composed of synuclein, it is reasonable to assume that biochemical alterations would be detected in synuclein in MSA and indeed this is the case. In MSA synuclein has biophysical properties that suggest increasing insolubility such as sedimentation in dense fractions in sucrose gradients and ready extraction into detergents and formic acid. Surprisingly, these biochemical modifications in synuclein are more widespread in the brain that the obvious pathology and suggest a fundamental molecular characteristic of the disorder. Similar neuronal, and less frequently glial, inclusions are detected in Lewy body disease, where there is also evidence for biophysical alterations in synuclein. Thus, MSA and LBD are both synucleinopathies, and they may comprise different poles of a disease spectrum that includes sporadic disorders as well as genetically determined disorders such as familial Lewy body Parkinsonism.