Background: The pathological hallmarks of Parkinson's disease are intracellular inclusions composed mainly of misfolded α-synuclein (αSYN). Under physiological conditions αSYN is mostly localized in synapses. In addition, a portion of αSYN is secreted to the extracellular space, where it may be sequestered by neighboring cells and could induce inflammatory responses. The mechanisms of αSYN internalization and signal transduction are not unequivocally clarified. In this work we investigated in primary mouse astrocytes the involvement of toll-like receptor 4 (TLR4) in the induction of inflammatory responses upon exposure to purified human αSYN produced in bacteria.
Results: The mRNA induction of pro-inflammatory cytokines, inducible nitric oxide synthase and cyclooxygenase-2 was significantly reduced in TLR4 knockout astrocytes. The αSYN-mediated activation of c-Jun N-terminal kinases and p38 mitogen-activated protein kinase tended to be diminished, and nuclear translocation of the p65 subunit of nuclear factor κB was abolished in TLR4 knockout astrocytes. In contrast, the uptake of exogenous αSYN was unaffected by TLR4 knockout.
Conclusions: Extracellular αSYN can activate pro-inflammatory TLR4 pathways in astrocytes, whereas αSYN uptake is independent of TLR4.