Functional and Pathological Effects of α-Synuclein on Synaptic SNARE Complexes

J Mol Biol. 2023 Jan 15;435(1):167714. doi: 10.1016/j.jmb.2022.167714. Epub 2022 Jul 3.


α-Synuclein is an abundant protein at the neuronal synapse that has been implicated in Parkinson's disease for over 25 years and characterizes the hallmark pathology of a group of neurodegenerative diseases now known as the synucleinopathies. Physiologically, α-synuclein exists in an equilibrium between a synaptic vesicle membrane-bound α-helical multimer and a cytosolic largely unstructured monomer. Through its membrane-bound state, α-synuclein functions in neurotransmitter release by modulating several steps in the synaptic vesicle cycle, including synaptic vesicle clustering and docking, SNARE complex assembly, and homeostasis of synaptic vesicle pools. These functions have been ascribed to α-synuclein's interactions with the synaptic vesicle SNARE protein VAMP2/synaptobrevin-2, the synaptic vesicle-attached synapsins, and the synaptic vesicle membrane itself. How α-synuclein affects these processes, and whether disease is due to loss-of-function or gain-of-toxic-function of α-synuclein remains unclear. In this review, we provide an in-depth summary of the existing literature, discuss possible reasons for the discrepancies in the field, and propose a working model that reconciles the findings in the literature.

Keywords: Parkinson’s disease; membrane binding; neuronal survival; neurotransmitter release; synaptic vesicle.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Parkinson Disease* / metabolism
  • SNARE Proteins* / metabolism
  • Synapses* / metabolism
  • Synaptic Vesicles / metabolism
  • Vesicle-Associated Membrane Protein 2 / metabolism
  • alpha-Synuclein* / metabolism


  • alpha-Synuclein
  • SNARE Proteins
  • Vesicle-Associated Membrane Protein 2