Cell models of lipid-rich α-synuclein aggregation validate known modifiers of α-synuclein biology and identify stearoyl-CoA desaturase

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2019 Oct 8;116(41):20760-20769. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1903216116. Epub 2019 Sep 23.


Microscopy of Lewy bodies in Parkinson's disease (PD) suggests they are not solely filamentous deposits of α-synuclein (αS) but also contain vesicles and other membranous material. We previously reported the existence of native αS tetramers/multimers and described engineered mutations of the αS KTKEGV repeat motifs that abrogate the multimers. The resultant excess monomers accumulate in lipid membrane-rich inclusions associated with neurotoxicity exceeding that of natural familial PD mutants, such as E46K. Here, we use the αS "3K" (E35K+E46K+E61K) engineered mutation to probe the mechanisms of reported small-molecule modifiers of αS biochemistry and then identify compounds via a medium-throughput automated screen. αS 3K, which forms round, vesicle-rich inclusions in cultured neurons and causes a PD-like, l-DOPA-responsive motor phenotype in transgenic mice, was fused to YFP, and fluorescent inclusions were quantified. Live-cell microscopy revealed the highly dynamic nature of the αS inclusions: for example, their rapid clearance by certain known modulators of αS toxicity, including tacrolimus (FK506), isradipine, nilotinib, nortriptyline, and trifluoperazine. Our automated 3K cellular screen identified inhibitors of stearoyl-CoA desaturase (SCD) that robustly prevent the αS inclusions, reduce αS 3K neurotoxicity, and prevent abnormal phosphorylation and insolubility of αS E46K. SCD inhibition restores the E46K αS multimer:monomer ratio in human neurons, and it actually increases this ratio for overexpressed wild-type αS. In accord, conditioning 3K cells in saturated fatty acids rescued, whereas unsaturated fatty acids worsened, the αS phenotypes. Our cellular screen allows probing the mechanisms of synucleinopathy and refining drug candidates, including SCD inhibitors and other lipid modulators.

Keywords: Parkinson’s disease; multimer; neurotoxicity; therapeutic screen; α-synuclein.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Line
  • High-Throughput Screening Assays
  • Humans
  • Inclusion Bodies / drug effects*
  • Lipids / analysis*
  • Mice
  • Mice, Transgenic
  • Models, Biological
  • Mutation*
  • Neuroblastoma / drug therapy*
  • Neuroblastoma / metabolism
  • Neuroblastoma / pathology
  • Small Molecule Libraries / pharmacology*
  • Stearoyl-CoA Desaturase / antagonists & inhibitors*
  • Stearoyl-CoA Desaturase / metabolism
  • alpha-Synuclein / chemistry*
  • alpha-Synuclein / genetics
  • alpha-Synuclein / metabolism


  • Lipids
  • Small Molecule Libraries
  • alpha-Synuclein
  • Stearoyl-CoA Desaturase