Lipid bilayer disruption by oligomeric alpha-synuclein depends on bilayer charge and accessibility of the hydrophobic core

Biochim Biophys Acta. 2009 Jun;1788(6):1271-8. doi: 10.1016/j.bbamem.2009.03.010. Epub 2009 Mar 27.


Soluble oligomeric aggregates of alpha-synuclein have been implicated to play a central role in the pathogenesis of Parkinson's disease. Disruption and permeabilization of lipid bilayers by alpha-synuclein oligomers is postulated as a toxic mechanism, but the molecular details controlling the oligomer-membrane interaction are still unknown. Here we show that membrane disruption strongly depends on the accessibility of the hydrophobic membrane core and that charge interactions play an important but complex role. We systematically studied the influence of the physical membrane properties and solution conditions on lipid bilayer disruption by oligomers using a dye release assay. Varying the lipid headgroup composition revealed that membrane disruption only occurs for negatively charged bilayers. Furthermore, the electrostatic repulsion between the negatively charged alpha-synuclein and the negative surface charge of the bilayer inhibits vesicle disruption at low ionic strength. The disruption of negatively charged vesicles further depends on lipid packing parameters. Bilayer composition changes that result in an increased lipid headgroup spacing make vesicles more prone to disruption, suggesting that the accessibility of the bilayer hydrocarbon core modulates oligomer-membrane interaction. These data shed important new insights into the driving forces governing the highly debated process of oligomer-membrane interactions.

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acid Substitution
  • Cell Death
  • Electrophoresis, Polyacrylamide Gel
  • Humans
  • Kinetics
  • Lipid Bilayers / chemistry
  • Lipid Bilayers / pharmacology*
  • Parkinsonian Disorders / pathology
  • Parkinsonian Disorders / physiopathology
  • Phosphatidylglycerols / chemistry
  • Spectrophotometry, Ultraviolet
  • Substantia Nigra / pathology
  • alpha-Synuclein / chemistry*
  • alpha-Synuclein / drug effects
  • alpha-Synuclein / genetics
  • alpha-Synuclein / physiology


  • Lipid Bilayers
  • Phosphatidylglycerols
  • alpha-Synuclein
  • 1-palmitoyl-2-oleoylglycero-3-phosphoglycerol