Phase separation and other forms of α-Synuclein self-assemblies

Essays Biochem. 2022 Dec 16;66(7):987-1000. doi: 10.1042/EBC20220055.


α-Synuclein (α-Syn) is a natively unstructured protein, which self-assembles into higher-order aggregates possessing serious pathophysiological implications. α-Syn aberrantly self-assembles into protein aggregates, which have been widely implicated in Parkinson's disease (PD) pathogenesis and other synucleinopathies. The self-assembly of α-Syn involves the structural conversion of soluble monomeric protein into oligomeric intermediates and eventually fibrillar aggregates of amyloids with cross-β-sheet rich conformation. These aggregated α-Syn species majorly constitute the intraneuronal inclusions, which is a hallmark of PD neuropathology. Self-assembly/aggregation of α-Syn is not a single-state conversion process as unfolded protein can access multiple conformational states through the formation of metastable, transient pre-fibrillar intermediate species. Recent studies have indicated that soluble oligomers are the potential neurotoxic species responsible for cell death in PD pathogenesis. The heterogeneous and transient nature of oligomers formed during the early stage of aggregation pathway limit their detailed study in understanding the structure-toxicity relationship. Moreover, the precise molecular events occurring in the early stage of α-Syn aggregation process majorly remain unsolved. Recently, liquid-liquid phase separation (LLPS) of α-Syn has been designated as an alternate nucleation mechanism, which occurs in the early lag phase of the aggregation pathway leading to the formation of dynamic supramolecular assemblies. The stronger self-association among the protein molecules triggers the irreversible liquid-to-solid transition of these supramolecular assemblies into the amyloid-like hydrogel, which may serve as a reservoir entrapping toxic oligomeric intermediates and fibrils. This review strives to provide insights into different modes of α-Syn self-assemblies including LLPS-mediated self-assembly and its recent advancements.

Keywords: Fibrils; Phase separation; alpha synuclein; amyloid; oligomerization; protein aggregation.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Amyloid / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Intrinsically Disordered Proteins*
  • Parkinson Disease* / metabolism
  • Protein Aggregates
  • alpha-Synuclein / chemistry
  • alpha-Synuclein / metabolism


  • alpha-Synuclein
  • Protein Aggregates
  • Amyloid
  • Intrinsically Disordered Proteins