Introduction: Parkinson's disease (PD) and multiple system atrophy (MSA) are neurodegenerative diseases that are characterized by the intracellular accumulation of alpha-synuclein containing aggregates. Recent increasing evidence suggests that Parkinson's disease and MSA pathology spread throughout the nervous system in a spatiotemporal fashion, possibly by prion-like propagation of alpha-synuclein positive aggregates between synaptically connected areas. Concurrently, intracerebral injection of pathological alpha-synuclein into transgenic mice overexpressing human wild-type alpha-synuclein, or human alpha-synuclein with the familial A53T mutation, or into wild-type mice causes spreading of alpha-synuclein pathology in the CNS. Considering that wild-type mice naturally also express a threonine at codon 53 of alpha-synuclein, it has remained unclear whether human wild-type alpha-synuclein alone, in the absence of endogenously expressed mouse alpha-synuclein, would support a similar propagation of alpha-synuclein pathology in vivo.
Results: Here we show that brain extracts from two patients with MSA and two patients with probable incidental Lewy body disease (iLBD) but not phosphate-buffered saline induce prion-like spreading of pathological alpha-synuclein after intrastriatal injection into mice expressing human wild-type alpha-synuclein. Mice were sacrificed at 3, 6, and 9 months post injection and analyzed neuropathologically and biochemically. Mice injected with brain extracts from patients with MSA or probable iLBD both accumulated intraneuronal inclusion bodies, which stained positive for phosphorylated alpha-synuclein and appeared predominantly within the injected brain hemisphere after 6 months. After 9 months these intraneuronal inclusion bodies had spread to the contralateral hemisphere and more rostral and caudal areas. Biochemical analysis showed that brains of mice injected with brain extracts from patients with MSA and probable iLBD contained hyperphosphorylated alpha-synuclein that also seeded aggregation of recombinant human wild-type alpha-synuclein in a Thioflavin T binding assay.
Conclusions: Our results indicate that human wild-type alpha-synuclein supports the prion-like spreading of alpha-synuclein pathology in the absence of endogenously expressed mouse alpha-synuclein in vivo.