Alternative splicing is a complex post-transcriptional process that can be regulated by cis-acting elements located within genomic non-coding regions. Recent studies have identified that polymorphic variations in non-coding regions of the α-synuclein gene (SNCA) locus are associated with an increased risk for developing Parkinson's disease (PD). The underlying mechanism(s) for this susceptibility may involve changes in α-synuclein mRNA expression and alternative splicing. As a first step towards understanding the biology of α-synuclein splice variants in PD, we characterized the levels of the full-length SNCA-140 mRNA transcript and SNCA-126, -112, and -98 alternatively spliced variants in different neuronal regions from PD patients or transgenic mice overexpressing human α-synuclein (ASO). In human post-mortem tissue, α-synuclein spliced transcripts were expressed in a region-specific manner in the cortex, substantia nigra, and cerebellum. We observed increased nigral SNCA-140 and SNCA-126 transcript levels in PD patients when compared to neurologically unaffected cases. Human α-synuclein splicing changes were also found to occur in a region-specific manner in ASO mice. Here, SNCA-126, -112, and -98 transcript levels did not increase proportionally with SNCA-140 levels, or parallel the region-specific mouse transcript ratios seen in wild-type (WT) littermates. While most transcripts were elevated in ASO mice when compared to WT mice, the most prominent increase was found in the ventral midbrain of 15-month-old ASO mice. These results demonstrate region-specific human α-synuclein transcript level abnormalities in PD patients and in a transgenic mouse model of α-synucleinopathy. This study is relevant to understanding the normal, adaptive, or pathological role(s) of α-synuclein splice variants.
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