A glutaminyl cyclase-catalyzed α-synuclein modification identified in human synucleinopathies
Parkinson's disease (PD) is a progressive neurodegenerative disorder that is neuropathologically characterized by degeneration of dopaminergic neurons of the substantia nigra (SN) and formation of Lewy bodies and Lewy neurites composed of aggregated α-synuclein. Proteolysis of α-synuclein by matrix metalloproteinases was shown to facilitate its aggregation and to affect cell viability. One of the proteolysed fragments, Gln79-α-synuclein, possesses a glutamine residue at its N-terminus. We argue that glutaminyl cyclase (QC) may catalyze the pyroglutamate (pGlu)79-α-synuclein formation and, thereby, contribute to enhanced aggregation and compromised degradation of α-synuclein in human synucleinopathies. Here, the kinetic characteristics of Gln79-α-synuclein conversion into the pGlu-form by QC are shown using enzymatic assays and mass spectrometry. Thioflavin T assays and electron microscopy demonstrated a decreased potential of pGlu79-α-synuclein to form fibrils. However, size exclusion chromatography and cell viability assays revealed an increased propensity of pGlu79-α-synuclein to form oligomeric aggregates with high neurotoxicity. In brains of wild-type mice, QC and α-synuclein were co-expressed by dopaminergic SN neurons. Using a specific antibody against the pGlu-modified neo-epitope of α-synuclein, pGlu79-α-synuclein aggregates were detected in association with QC in brains of two transgenic mouse lines with human α-synuclein overexpression. In human brain samples of PD and dementia with Lewy body subjects, pGlu79-α-synuclein was shown to be present in SN neurons, in a number of Lewy bodies and in dystrophic neurites. Importantly, there was a spatial co-occurrence of pGlu79-α-synuclein with the enzyme QC in the human SN complex and a defined association of QC with neuropathological structures. We conclude that QC catalyzes the formation of oligomer-prone pGlu79-α-synuclein in human synucleinopathies, which may-in analogy to pGlu-Aβ peptides in Alzheimer's disease-act as a seed for pathogenic protein aggregation.