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Open Access Research article

Dynamic transport and localization of alpha-synuclein in primary hippocampal neurons

Mong-Lin Yang1, Linda Hasadsri12, Wendy S Woods3 and Julia M George3*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Cell and Developmental Biology, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Urbana, IL, USA

2 Medical Scholars Program, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Urbana, IL, USA

3 Department of Molecular and Integrative Physiology, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Urbana, IL, USA

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Molecular Neurodegeneration 2010, 5:9  doi:10.1186/1750-1326-5-9

Published: 9 February 2010

Abstract

Background

Alpha-synuclein is a presynaptic protein with a proposed role in neurotransmission and dopamine homeostasis. Abnormal accumulation of α-synuclein aggregates in dopaminergic neurons of the substantia nigra is diagnostic of sporadic Parkinson's disease, and mutations in the protein are linked to early onset forms of the disease. The folded conformation of the protein varies depending upon its environment and other factors that are poorly understood. When bound to phospholipid membranes, α-synuclein adopts a helical conformation that mediates specific interactions with other proteins.

Results

To investigate the role of the helical domain in transport and localization of α-synuclein, eGFP-tagged constructs were transfected into rat primary hippocampal neurons at 7 DIV. A series of constructs were analyzed in which each individual exon was deleted, for comparison to previous studies of lipid affinity and α-helix content. A53T and A30P substitutions, representing Parkinson's disease-associated variants, were analyzed as well. Single exon deletions within the lipid-binding N-terminal domain of α-synuclein (exons 2, 3, and 4) partially disrupted its presynaptic localization at 17-21 DIV, resulting in increased diffuse labeling of axons. Similar results were obtained for A30P, which exhibits decreased lipid binding, but not A53T. To examine whether differences in presynaptic enrichment were related to deficiencies in transport velocity, transport was visualized via live cell microscopy. Tagged α-synuclein migrated at a rate of 1.85 ± 0.09 μm/s, consistent with previous reports, and single exon deletion mutants migrated at similar rates, as did A30P. Deletion of the entire N-terminal lipid-binding domain (Δ234GFP) did not significantly alter rates of particle movement, but decreased the number of moving particles. Only the A53TGFP mutant exhibited a significant decrease in transport velocity as compared to ASGFP.

Conclusions

These results support the hypothesis that presynaptic localization involves a mechanism that requires helical conformation and lipid binding. Conversely, the rate of axonal transport is not determined by lipid affinity and is not sufficient to account for differences in presynaptic localization of α-synuclein-eGFP variants.