A key process of neurodegeneration in Parkinson disease (PD) is the transneuronal spreading of alpha-synuclein. Alpha-synuclein is a presynaptic protein that is implicated in the pathogenesis of PD and other synucleinopathies, where it forms, upon intracellular aggregation, pathological inclusions. Other hallmarks of PD include neurodegeneration and microgliosis in susceptible brain regions. Whether it is primarily transneuronal spreading of alpha-synuclein particles, inclusion formation, or other mechanisms, such as inflammation, that cause neurodegeneration in PD is unclear. We used spreading/aggregation of alpha-synuclein induced by intracerebral injection of alpha-synuclein preformed fibrils into the mouse brain to address this question. We performed quantitative histological analysis for alpha-synuclein inclusions, neurodegeneration, and microgliosis in different brain regions, and a gene expression profiling of the ventral midbrain, at two different timepoints after disease induction. We observed significant neurodegeneration and microgliosis in brain regions not only with, but also without alpha-synuclein inclusions. We also observed prominent microgliosis in injured brain regions that did not correlate with neurodegeneration nor with inclusion load. In longitudinal gene expression profiling experiments, we observed early and unique alterations linked to microglial mediated inflammation that preceded neurodegeneration, indicating an active role of microglia in inducing neurodegeneration. Our observations indicate that alpha-synuclein inclusion formation is not the major driver in the early phases of PD-like neurodegeneration, but that diffusible, oligomeric alpha-synuclein species, which induce unusual microglial reactivity, play a key role in this process. Our findings uncover new features of alpha-synuclein induced pathologies, in particular microgliosis, and point to the necessity of a broader view of the process of prion-like spreading of that protein.
bioRxiv Subject Collection: Neuroscience