The pathological role of α-synuclein (α-Syn) aggregation in neurodegeneration is well recognized, but the physiological function of normal α-Syn remains unknown. As α-Syn protein contains multiple divalent metal binding sites, herein we conducted a comprehensive characterization of the role of α-Syn in manganese-induced dopaminergic neurotoxicity. We established transgenic N27 dopaminergic neuronal cells by stably expressing human wild-type α-Syn at normal physiological levels. α-Syn-expressing dopaminergic cells significantly attenuated Mn-induced neurotoxicity for 24-h exposures relative to vector control cells. To further explore cellular mechanisms, we studied the mitochondria-dependent apoptotic pathway. Analysis of a key mitochondrial apoptotic initiator, cytochrome c, revealed that α-Syn significantly reduces the Mn-induced cytochrome c release into cytosol. The downstream caspase cascade, involving caspase-9 and caspase-3 activation, during Mn exposure was also largely attenuated in Mn-treated α-Syn cells in a time-dependent manner. α-Syn cells also showed a dramatic reduction in the Mn-induced proteolytic activation of the pro-apoptotic kinase PKCδ. The generation of Mn-induced reactive oxygen species (ROS) did not differ between α-Syn and vector control cells, indicating that α-Syn exerts its protective effect independent of altering ROS generation. Inductively coupled plasma-mass spectrometry (ICP-MS) revealed no significant differences in intracellular Mn levels between treated vector and α-Syn cells. Notably, the expression of wild-type α-Syn in primary mesencephalic cells also rescued cells from Mn-induced neurotoxicity. However, prolonged exposure to Mn promoted protein aggregation in α-Syn-expressing cells. Collectively, these results demonstrate that wild-type α-Syn exhibits neuroprotective effects against Mn-induced neurotoxicity during the early stages of exposure in a dopaminergic neuronal model of PD.
Keywords: Parkinson’s disease; metals; neuroprotection; neurotoxicity; protein aggregation; α-synuclein.
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