Multiple system atrophy (MSA) is a rare atypical parkinsonian disorder characterized by a rapidly progressing clinical course and at present without any efficient therapy. Neuropathologically, myelin loss and neurodegeneration are associated with α-synuclein accumulation in oligodendrocytes, but underlying pathomechanisms are poorly understood. Here, we analyzed the impact of oligodendrocytic α-synuclein on the formation of myelin sheaths to define a potential interventional target for MSA. Post-mortem analyses of MSA patients and controls were performed to quantify myelin and oligodendrocyte numbers. As pre-clinical models, we used transgenic MSA mice, a myelinating stem cell-derived oligodendrocyte-neuron co-culture, and primary oligodendrocytes to determine functional consequences of oligodendrocytic α-synuclein overexpression on myelination. We detected myelin loss accompanied by preserved or even increased numbers of oligodendrocytes in post-mortem MSA brains or transgenic mouse forebrains, respectively, indicating an oligodendrocytic dysfunction in myelin formation. Corroborating this observation, overexpression of α-synuclein in primary and stem cell-derived oligodendrocytes severely impaired myelin formation, defining a novel α-synuclein-linked pathomechanism in MSA. We used the pro-myelinating activity of the muscarinic acetylcholine receptor antagonist benztropine to analyze the reversibility of the myelination deficit. Transcriptome profiling of primary pre-myelinating oligodendrocytes demonstrated that benztropine readjusts myelination-related processes such as cholesterol and membrane biogenesis, being compromised by oligodendrocytic α-synuclein. Additionally, benztropine restored the α-synuclein-induced myelination deficit of stem cell-derived oligodendrocytes. Strikingly, benztropine also ameliorated the myelin deficit in transgenic MSA mice, resulting in a prevention of neuronal cell loss. In conclusion, this study defines the α-synuclein-induced myelination deficit as a novel and crucial pathomechanism in MSA. Importantly, the reversible nature of this oligodendrocytic dysfunction opens a novel avenue for an intervention in MSA.
Keywords: Multiple system atrophy; Myelin; Oligodendrocyte progenitor cells; Oligodendrocytes; α-Synuclein.