Clinical overview of the synucleinopathies

Mov Disord. 2003 Sep;18 Suppl 6:S21-7. doi: 10.1002/mds.10559.


The term synucleinopathies is used to name a group of neurodegenerative disorders characterized by fibrillary aggregates of alpha-synuclein protein in the cytoplasm of selective populations of neurons and glia. These disorders include Parkinson's disease (PD), dementia with Lewy bodies (DLB), pure autonomic failure (PAF), and multiple system atrophy (MSA). Clinically, they are characterized by a chronic and progressive decline in motor, cognitive, behavioural, and autonomic functions, depending on the distribution of the lesions. Because of clinical overlap, differential diagnosis is sometimes very difficult. Parkinsonism is the predominant symptom of PD, but it can be indistinguishable from the parkinsonism of DLB and MSA. Autonomic dysfunction, which is an isolated finding in PAF, may be present in PD and DLB, but is usually more prominent and appears earlier in MSA. DLB could be the same disease as PD but with widespread cortical pathological states, leading to dementia, fluctuating cognition, and the characteristic visual hallucinations. The deposition of aggregates of synuclein in neurons and glia suggests that a common pathogenic mechanism may exist for these disorders. Even though synuclein may play an important role in disease development in these disorders, in light of the different symptom complex and prognosis and management issues that characterize each disorder, we think that the term synucleinopathy has little practical value as a diagnostic term for the clinician. Clinicians should attempt to reach standard clinical diagnosis on patients, such as PD, PAF, or MSA.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Brain / pathology
  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Humans
  • Nerve Tissue Proteins* / metabolism
  • Neurodegenerative Diseases / diagnosis*
  • Neurodegenerative Diseases / pathology
  • Neurofibrils / pathology
  • Neuroglia / pathology
  • Neurologic Examination
  • Neurons / pathology
  • Synucleins
  • alpha-Synuclein


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