α-synuclein, a presynaptic protein of poorly defined function, constitutes the main component of Parkinson disease-associated Lewy bodies. Extensive biophysical investigations have provided evidence that isolated α-synuclein is an intrinsically disordered protein (IDP) in vitro. Subsequently serving as a model IDP in numerous studies, α-synuclein has aided in the development of many technologies used to characterize IDPs and arguably represents the most thoroughly analyzed IDP to date. Recent reports, however, have challenged the disordered nature of α-synuclein inside cells and have instead proposed a physiologically relevant helical tetramer. Despite α-synuclein's rich biophysical history, a single coherent picture has not yet emerged concerning its in vivo structure, dynamics, and physiological role(s). We present herein a review of the biophysical discoveries, developments, and models pertinent to the characterization of α-synuclein's structure and analysis of the native tetramer controversy.
Keywords: Parkinson disease; in-cell NMR; molecular biophysics; protein structure; synucleopathies; α-synuclein.