A Role for Neuronal Alpha-Synuclein in Gastrointestinal Immunity

J Innate Immun. 2017;9(5):456-463. doi: 10.1159/000477990. Epub 2017 Jun 27.


Background: Alpha-synuclein (αS) is a nerve cell protein associated with Parkinson disease (PD). Accumulation of αS within the enteric nervous system (ENS) and its traffic from the gut to the brain are implicated in the pathogenesis and progression of PD. αS has no known function in humans and the reason for its accumulation within the ENS is unknown. Several recent studies conducted in rodents have linked αS to immune cell activation in the central nervous system. We hypothesized that αS in the ENS might play a role in the innate immune defenses of the human gastrointestinal (GI) tract.

Methods: We immunostained endoscopic biopsies for αS from children with documented gastric and duodenal inflammation and intestinal allograft recipients who contracted norovirus. To determine whether αS exhibited immune-modulatory activity, we examined whether human αS induced leukocyte migration and dendritic cell maturation.

Findings: We showed that the expression of αS in the enteric neurites of the upper GI tract of pediatric patients positively correlated with the degree of acute and chronic inflammation in the intestinal wall. In intestinal allograft subjects who were closely monitored for infection, expression of αS was induced during norovirus infection. We also demonstrated that both monomeric and oligomeric αS have potent chemoattractant activity, causing the migration of neutrophils and monocytes dependent on the presence of the integrin subunit, CD11b, and that both forms of αS stimulate dendritic cell maturation.

Interpretation: These findings strongly suggest that αS is expressed within the human ENS to direct intestinal inflammation and implicates common GI infections in the pathogenesis of PD.

Keywords: Alpha-synuclein; Cell activation; Innate immunity; Parkinson disease.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Intramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • CD11b Antigen / metabolism
  • Caliciviridae Infections / immunology*
  • Cell Differentiation
  • Cell Movement
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Chemotaxis
  • Child
  • Dendritic Cells / immunology*
  • Duodenitis / immunology*
  • Female
  • Gastritis / immunology*
  • Humans
  • Immunity, Innate
  • Intestines / immunology*
  • Intestines / virology
  • Male
  • Monocytes / immunology*
  • Nervous System*
  • Neurons / metabolism*
  • Neutrophils / immunology*
  • Norovirus / physiology*
  • Parkinson Disease / immunology*
  • Parkinson Disease / virology
  • Protein Folding
  • alpha-Synuclein / immunology
  • alpha-Synuclein / metabolism*


  • CD11b Antigen
  • alpha-Synuclein