Long-term consequences of human alpha-synuclein overexpression in the primate ventral midbrain

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Overexpression of human α-synuclein (α-syn) using recombinant adeno-associated viral (rAAV) vectors provides a novel tool to study neurodegenerative processes seen in Parkinson's disease and other synucleinopathies. We used a pseudotyped rAAV2/5 vector to express human wild-type (wt) α-syn, A53T mutated α-syn, or the green fluorescent protein (GFP) in the primate ventral midbrain. Twenty-four adult common marmosets (Callithrix jacchus) were followed with regular behavioural tests for 1 year after transduction. α-Syn overexpression affected motor behaviour such that all animals remained asymptomatic for at least 9 weeks, then motor bias comprising head position bias and full body rotations were seen in wt-α-syn expressing animals between 15 and 27 weeks; in the later phase, the animals overexpressing the A53T α -syn, in particular, showed a gradual worsening of motor performance, with increased motor coordination errors. Histological analysis from animals overexpressing either the wt or A53T α -syn showed prominent degeneration of dopaminergic fibres in the striatum. In the ventral midbrain, however, the dopaminergic neurodegeneration was more prominent in the A53T group than in the WT group suggesting differential toxicity of these two proteins in the primate brain. The surviving cell bodies and their processes in the substantia nigra were stained by antibodies to the pathological form of α-syn that is phosphorylated at Ser position 129. Moreover, we found, for the first time, ubiquitin containing aggregates after overexpression of α-syn in the primate midbrain. There was also a variable loss of oligodendroglial cells in the cerebral peduncle. These histological and behavioural data suggest that this model provides unique opportunities to study progressive neurodegeneration in the dopaminergic system and deposition of α-syn and ubiquitin similar to that seen in Parkinson's disease, and to test novel therapeutic targets for neuroprotective strategies.

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