Leite K, Garg P, Spitzner FP, Guerin Darvas S, Bähr M, Priesemann V, Kügler S
Frontiers in Molecular Neuroscience
Front Mol Neurosci. 2022 May 3;15:868790.
α-synuclein (α-Syn) is intimately linked to synucleinopathies like Parkinson’s disease and dementia with Lewy bodies. However, the pathophysiological mechanisms that are triggered by this protein are still largely enigmatic. α-Syn overabundance may cause neurodegeneration through protein accumulation and mitochondrial deterioration but may also result in pathomechanisms independent from neuronal cell death. One such proposed pathological mechanism is the influence of α-Syn on non-stimulated, intrinsic brain activity. This activity is responsible for more than 90% of the brain’s energyconsumption, and is thus thought to play an eminent role in basic brain functionality. Here we report that α-Syn substantially disrupts intrinsic neuronal network burst activity in a long-term neuronal cell culture model. Mechanistically, the impairment of network activity originates from reduced levels of cyclic AMP and cyclic AMP-mediated signaling as well as from diminished numbers of active presynaptic terminals. The profound reduction of network activity due to α-Syn was mediated only by intracellularly expressed α-Syn, but not by α-Syn that is naturally released by neurons. Conversely, extracellular pre-formed fibrils of α-Syn mimicked the effect of intracellular α-Syn, suggesting that they trigger an off-target mechanism that is not activated by naturally released α-Syn. A simulation-based model of the network activity in our cultures demonstrated that even subtle effect sizes in reducing outbound connectivity, i.e., loss of active synapses, can cause substantial global reductions in non-stimulated network activity. These results suggest that even low-level loss of synaptic output capabilities caused by α-Syn may result in significant functional impairments in terms of intrinsic neuronal network activity. Provided that our model holds true for the human brain, then α-Syn may cause significant functional lesions independent from neurodegeneration.