Objective: The presence in the brain of α-synuclein containing Lewy neurites, or bodies, is the histological hallmark of Parkinson's disease (PD). The discovery of α-synuclein aggregates in nerve endings of the heart, digestive tract, and skin has lent support to the concept of PD as a systemic disease. Our goals were, first, to demonstrate the presence of α-synuclein inclusions in the skin and, second, to detect quantitative differences between patients with PD and atypical parkinsonism (AP).
Methods: Skin biopsies were taken from 67 patients and 20 controls. The biopsies underwent immunohistochemistry (IHC) and immunofluorescence (IF) testing for α-synuclein, whereupon its presence was quantified as the percentage of positive cells. Patients were divided into those with PD and those with AP. AP patients included AP with neurodegenerative disease (proteinopathies) and secondary AP.
Results: Sixty-seven patients (34 with PD) and 20 controls were recruited. In the PD group, α-synuclein was detected in 58% of the cells in the spinous cell layer (SCL), 62% in the pilosebaceous unit (PSU), and 58% in the eccrine glands (EG). The AP-proteinopathies group showed 7%, 7%, and 0% expression of α-synuclein, respectively. No expression was found in the skin of the control group.
Conclusions: The expression of α-synuclein in the skin was relatively high in the PD group, scarce in AP, and null for the individuals in the control group. While these findings require further confirmation, this minimally invasive technique may aid in the improvement of the accuracy of PD diagnoses.