The expression of alpha-, beta-, and gamma-synucleins in olfactory mucosa from patients with and without neurodegenerative diseases

Exp Neurol. 1999 Dec;160(2):515-22. doi: 10.1006/exnr.1999.7228.


A family of homologous proteins known as alpha-, beta-, and gamma-synuclein are abundantly expressed in brain, especially in the presynaptic terminal of neurons. Although the precise function of these proteins remains unknown, alpha-synuclein has been implicated in synaptic plasticity associated with avian song learning as well as in the pathogenesis of Parkinson's disease (PD), dementia with LBs (DLB), some forms of Alzheimer's disease (AD), and multiple system atrophy (MSA). Since olfactory dysfunction is a common feature of these disorders and the olfactory receptor neurons (ORNs) of the olfactory epithelium (OE) regenerate throughout the lifespan, we used antibodies specific for alpha-, beta-, and gamma-synucleins to examine the olfactory mucosa of patients with PD, DLB, AD, MSA, and controls without a neurological disorder. Although antibodies to alpha- and beta-synucleins detected abnormal dystrophic neurites in the OE of patients with neurodegenerative disorders, similar pathology was also seen in the OE of controls. More significantly, we show here for the first time that alpha-, beta-, and gamma-synucleins are differentially expressed in cells of the OE and respiratory epithelium and that alpha-synuclein is the most abundant synuclein in the olfactory mucosa, where it is prominently expressed in ORNs. Moreover, alpha- and gamma-synucleins also were prominent in the OE basal cells, which include the progenitor cells of the ORNs in the OE. Thus, our data on synuclein expression within the OE may signify that synuclein plays a role in the regeneration and plasticity of ORNs in the adult human OE.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Alzheimer Disease / pathology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Multiple System Atrophy / pathology
  • Nerve Tissue Proteins / analysis*
  • Neurodegenerative Diseases / pathology*
  • Olfactory Mucosa / pathology*
  • Parkinson Disease / pathology
  • Phosphoproteins / analysis
  • Synucleins
  • alpha-Synuclein
  • gamma-Synuclein


  • Nerve Tissue Proteins
  • Phosphoproteins
  • SNCA protein, human
  • Synucleins
  • alpha-Synuclein
  • gamma-Synuclein