Common molecular mechanisms underlie the transfer of alpha-synuclein, Tau and huntingtinand modulate spontaneous activity in neuronal cells


Brás IC, Khani MH, Vasili E, Möbius W, Riedel D, Parfentev I, Gerhardt E, Fahlbusch C, Urlaub H, Zweckstetter M, Gollisch T, Outeiro TF




bioRxiv 2021.07.18.452825.


The misfolding and accumulation of disease-related proteins are common hallmarks among several neurodegenerative diseases. Alpha-synuclein (aSyn), Tau and huntingtin (wild-type and mutant, 25QHtt and 103QHtt, respectively) were recently shown to be transferred from cell-to-cell through different cellular pathways, thereby contributing to disease progression and neurodegeneration. However, the relative contribution of each of these mechanisms towards the spreading of these different proteins and the overall effect on neuronal function is still unclear.

To address this, we exploited different cell-based systems to conduct a systematic comparison of the mechanisms of release of aSyn, Tau and Htt, and evaluated the effects of each protein upon internalization in microglial, astrocytic, and neuronal cells. In the models used, we demonstrate that 25QHtt, aSyn and Tau are released to the extracellular space at higher levels than 103QHtt, and their release can be further augmented with the co-expression of USP19. Furthermore, cortical neurons treated with recombinant monomeric 43QHtt exhibited alterations in neuronal activity that correlated with the toxicity of the polyglutamine expansion. Tau internalization resulted in an increase in neuronal activity, in contrast to slight effects observed with aSyn. Interestingly, all these disease-associated proteins were present at higher levels in ectosomes than in exosomes. The internalization of both types of extracellular vesicles (EVs) by microglial or astrocytic cells elicited the production of pro-inflammatory cytokines and promoted an increase in autophagy markers. Additionally, the uptake of the EVs modulated neuronal activity in cortical neurons.

Overall, our systematic study demonstrates the release of neurodegenerative disease-associated proteins through similar cellular pathways. Furthermore, it emphasizes that protein release, both in a free form or in EVs, might contribute to a variety of detrimental effects in receiving cells and to progression of pathology, suggesting they may be exploited as valid targets for therapeutic intervention in different neurodegenerative diseases.