The Hidden Cell-to-Cell Trail of α-Synuclein Aggregates

J Mol Biol. 2023 Jun 15;435(12):167930. doi: 10.1016/j.jmb.2022.167930. Epub 2022 Dec 22.


The progressive accumulation of insoluble aggregates of the presynaptic protein alpha-synuclein (α-Syn) is a hallmark of neurodegenerative disorders including Parkinson's disease (PD), Multiple System Atrophy, and Dementia with Lewy Bodies, commonly referred to as synucleinopathies. Despite considerable progress on the structural biology of these aggregates, the molecular mechanisms mediating their cell-to-cell transmission, propagation, and neurotoxicity remain only partially understood. Numerous studies have highlighted the stereotypical spatiotemporal spreading of pathological α-Syn aggregates across different tissues and anatomically connected brain regions over time. Experimental evidence from various cellular and animal models indicate that α-Syn transfer occurs in two defined steps: the release of pathogenic α-Syn species from infected cells, and their uptake via passive or active endocytic pathways. Once α-Syn aggregates have been internalized, little is known about what drives their toxicity or how they interact with the endogenous protein to promote its misfolding and subsequent aggregation. Similarly, unknown genetic factors modulate different cellular responses to the aggregation and accumulation of pathogenic α-Syn species. Here we discuss the current understanding of the molecular phenomena associated with the intercellular spreading of pathogenic α-Syn seeds and summarize the evidence supporting the transmission hypothesis. Understanding the molecular mechanisms involved in α-Syn aggregates transmission is essential to develop novel targeted therapeutics against PD and related synucleinopathies.

Keywords: Parkinson's disease; intercellular prion-like spreading; neurodegeneration; release and uptake; synucleinopathies.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain / metabolism
  • Parkinson Disease / metabolism
  • Protein Aggregates*
  • Synucleinopathies* / metabolism
  • alpha-Synuclein / chemistry


  • alpha-Synuclein
  • Protein Aggregates