Alpha-synuclein suppresses mitochondrial protease ClpP to trigger mitochondrial oxidative damage and neurotoxicity

Acta Neuropathol. 2019 Jun;137(6):939-960. doi: 10.1007/s00401-019-01993-2. Epub 2019 Mar 15.


Both α-Synuclein (αSyn) accumulation and mitochondrial dysfunction have been implicated in the pathology of Parkinson's disease (PD). Although studies suggest that αSyn and its missense mutant, A53T, preferentially accumulate in the mitochondria, the mechanisms by which αSyn and mitochondrial proteins regulate each other to trigger mitochondrial and neuronal toxicity are poorly understood. ATP-dependent Clp protease (ClpP), a mitochondrial matrix protease, plays an important role in regulating mitochondrial protein turnover and bioenergetics activity. Here, we show that the protein level of ClpP is selectively decreased in αSyn-expressing cell culture and neurons derived from iPS cells of PD patient carrying αSyn A53T mutant, and in dopaminergic (DA) neurons of αSyn A53T mice and PD patient postmortem brains. Deficiency in ClpP induces an overload of mitochondrial misfolded/unfolded proteins, suppresses mitochondrial respiratory activity, increases mitochondrial oxidative damage and causes cell death. Overexpression of ClpP reduces αSyn-induced mitochondrial oxidative stress through enhancing the level of Superoxide Dismutase-2 (SOD2), and suppresses the accumulation of αSyn S129 phosphorylation and promotes neuronal morphology in neurons derived from PD patient iPS cells carrying αSyn A53T mutant. Moreover, we find that αSyn WT and A53T mutant interact with ClpP and suppress its peptidase activity. The binding of αSyn to ClpP further promotes a distribution of ClpP from soluble to insoluble cellular fraction in vitro and in vivo, leading to reduced solubility of ClpP. Compensating for the loss of ClpP in the substantia nigra of αSyn A53T mice by viral expression of ClpP suppresses mitochondrial oxidative damage, and reduces αSyn pathology and behavioral deficits of mice. Our findings provide novel insights into the mechanism underlying αSyn-induced neuronal pathology, and they suggest that ClpP might be a useful therapeutic target for PD and other synucleinopathies.

Keywords: ATP-dependent Clp protease; Alpha-synuclein; Mitochondria; Parkinson’s disease.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Respiration
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Dopaminergic Neurons / metabolism
  • Endopeptidase Clp / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Endopeptidase Clp / deficiency
  • Endopeptidase Clp / physiology*
  • Gain of Function Mutation
  • Genes, Reporter
  • Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells / metabolism
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Mitochondria / enzymology*
  • Mutation, Missense*
  • Nerve Tissue Proteins / deficiency
  • Nerve Tissue Proteins / physiology*
  • Oxidative Stress
  • Parkinson Disease / genetics*
  • Protein Folding
  • Protein Interaction Mapping
  • RNA Interference
  • RNA, Small Interfering / genetics
  • RNA, Small Interfering / pharmacology
  • Reactive Oxygen Species
  • Recombinant Proteins / metabolism
  • Solubility
  • Substantia Nigra / metabolism
  • Superoxide Dismutase / metabolism
  • alpha-Synuclein / genetics
  • alpha-Synuclein / physiology*


  • Nerve Tissue Proteins
  • RNA, Small Interfering
  • Reactive Oxygen Species
  • Recombinant Proteins
  • alpha-Synuclein
  • Superoxide Dismutase
  • superoxide dismutase 2
  • ClpP protein, human
  • Endopeptidase Clp