Duplication/triplication mutations of the SNCA locus, encoding alpha-synuclein (ASYN), and loss of function mutations in Nurr1, a nuclear receptor guiding midbrain dopaminergic neuron development, are associated with familial Parkinson's disease (PD). As we age, the expression levels of these two genes in midbrain dopaminergic neurons follow opposite directions and ASYN expression increases while the expression of Nurr1 decreases. We investigated the effect of ASYN and Nurr1 age-related expression alterations in the pathogenesis of PD by coupling Nurr1 hemizygous with ASYN(s) (heterozygote) or ASYN(d) (homozygote) transgenic mice. ASYN(d)/Nurr1+/- (2-hit) mice, contrary to the individual genetic traits, developed phenotypes consistent with dopaminergic dysfunction. Aging '2-hit' mice manifested kyphosis, severe rigid paralysis, L-DOPA responsive movement impairment and cachexia and died prematurely. Pathological abnormalities of phenotypic mice included SN neuron degeneration, extensive neuroinflammation and enhanced ASYN aggregation. Mice with two wt Nurr1 alleles [ASYN(d)/Nurr1+/+] or with reduced ASYN load [ASYN(s)/Nurr1+/-] did not develop the phenotype or pathology. Critically, we found that aging ASYN(d), in contrast to ASYN(s), mice suppress Nurr1-protein levels in a brain region-specific manner, which in addition to Nurr1 hemizygosity is necessary to instigate PD pathogenesis. Our experiments demonstrate that ASYN-dependent PD-related pathophysiology is mediated at least in part by Nurr1 down-regulation.
© The Author(s) 2021. Published by Oxford University Press.