Parkinson's is primarily a non-familial, age-related disorder caused by α-synuclein accumulation and the progressive loss of dopamine neurons in the substantia nigra pars compacta (SNc). G protein-coupled receptor (GPCR)-cAMP signaling has been linked to a reduction in human Parkinson's incidence and α-synuclein expression. Neuronal cAMP levels are controlled by GPCRs coupled to Gs or Gi/o, which increase or decrease cAMP, respectively. Regulator of G protein signaling 6 (RGS6) powerfully inhibits Gi/o signaling. Therefore, we hypothesized that RGS6 suppresses D2 autoreceptor- Gi/o signaling in SNc dopamine neurons promoting neuronal survival and reducing α-synuclein expression. Here we provide novel evidence that RGS6 critically suppresses late-age-onset SNc dopamine neuron loss and α-synuclein accumulation. RGS6 is restrictively expressed in human SNc dopamine neurons and, despite their loss in Parkinson's, all surviving neurons express RGS6. RGS6-/- mice exhibit hyperactive D2 autoreceptors with reduced cAMP signaling in SNc dopamine neurons. Importantly, RGS6-/- mice recapitulate key sporadic Parkinson's hallmarks, including: SNc dopamine neuron loss, reduced nigrostriatal dopamine, motor deficits, and α-synuclein accumulation. To our knowledge, Rgs6 is the only gene whose loss phenocopies these features of human Parkinson's. Therefore, RGS6 is a key regulator of D2R-Gi/o signaling in SNc dopamine neurons, protecting against Parkinson's neurodegeneration and α-synuclein accumulation.
Keywords: G-protein coupled receptors; G-proteins; Neuroscience; Parkinson's disease.