Research Article

Pathological α-synuclein transmission initiated by binding lymphocyte-activation gene 3

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Science  30 Sep 2016:
Vol. 353, Issue 6307, aah3374
DOI: 10.1126/science.aah3374

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Structured Abstract


Parkinson’s disease (PD) is the second most common neurodegenerative disorder and leads to slowness of movement, tremor, rigidity, and, in the later stages of PD, cognitive impairment. Pathologically, PD is characterized by the accumulation of α-synuclein in Lewy bodies and neurites. There is degeneration of neurons throughout the nervous system, with the degeneration of dopamine neurons in the substantia nigra pars compacta leading to the major symptoms of PD.


In the brains of PD patients, pathologic α-synuclein seems to spread from cell to cell via self-amplification, propagation, and transmission in a stereotypical and topographical pattern among neighboring cells and/or anatomically connected brain regions. The spread or transmission of pathologic α-synuclein is emerging as a potentially important driver of PD pathogenesis. The underlying mechanisms and molecular entities responsible for the transmission of pathologic α-synuclein from cell to cell are not known, but the entry of pathologic α-synuclein into neurons is thought to occur, in part, through an active clathrin-dependent endocytic process.


Using recombinant α-synuclein preformed fibrils (PFF) as a model system with which to study the transmission of misfolded α-synuclein from neuron to neuron, we screened a library encoding transmembrane proteins for α-synuclein-biotin PFF–binding candidates via detection with streptavidin-AP (alkaline phosphatase) staining. Three positive clones were identified that bind α-synuclein PFF and include lymphocyte-activation gene 3 (LAG3), neurexin 1β, and amyloid β precursor-like protein 1 (APLP1). Of these three transmembrane proteins, LAG3 demonstrated the highest ratio of selectivity for α-synuclein PFF over the α-synuclein monomer. α-Synuclein PFF bind to LAG3 in a saturable manner (dissociation constant = 77 nM), whereas the α-synuclein monomer does not bind to LAG3. Co-immunoprecipitation also suggests that pathological α-synuclein PFF specifically bind to LAG3. Tau PFF, β-amyloid oligomer, and β-amyloid PFF do not bind to LAG3, indicating that LAG3 is specific for α-synuclein PFF. The internalization of α-synuclein PFF involves LAG3 because deletion of LAG3 reduces the endocytosis of α-synuclein PFF. LAG3 colocalizes with the endosomal guanosine triphosphatases Rab5 and Rab7 and coendocytoses with pathologic α-synuclein. Neuron-to-neuron transmission of pathologic α-synuclein and the accompanying pathology and neurotoxicity is substantially attenuated by deletion of LAG3 or by antibodies to LAG3. The lack of LAG3 also substantially delayed α-synuclein PFF–induced loss of dopamine neurons, as well as biochemical and behavioral deficits in vivo.


We discovered that pathologic α-synuclein transmission and toxicity is initiated by binding to LAG3 and that neuron-to-neuron transmission of pathological α-synuclein involves the endocytosis of exogenous α-synuclein PFF by the engagement of LAG3 on neurons. Depletion of LAG3 or antibodies to LAG3 substantially reduces the pathology set in motion by the transmission of pathologic α-synuclein. The identification of LAG3 as an α-synuclein PFF–binding protein provides a new target for developing therapeutics designed to slow the progression of PD and related α-synucleinopathies.

LAG3 deletion or antibodies to LAG3 delay α-synuclein PFF transmission.

Compared with wild-type neurons, binding and endocytosis of α-synuclein PFF is dramatically reduced with antibodies to LAG3 or when LAG3 is deleted, resulting in delayed pathologic α-synuclein transmission and toxicity. Illustration credit: I-Hsun Wu


Emerging evidence indicates that the pathogenesis of Parkinson’s disease (PD) may be due to cell-to-cell transmission of misfolded preformed fibrils (PFF) of α-synuclein (α-syn). The mechanism by which α-syn PFF spreads from neuron to neuron is not known. Here, we show that LAG3 (lymphocyte-activation gene 3) binds α-syn PFF with high affinity (dissociation constant = 77 nanomolar), whereas the α-syn monomer exhibited minimal binding. α-Syn-biotin PFF binding to LAG3 initiated α-syn PFF endocytosis, transmission, and toxicity. Lack of LAG3 substantially delayed α-syn PFF–induced loss of dopamine neurons, as well as biochemical and behavioral deficits in vivo. The identification of LAG3 as a receptor that binds α-syn PFF provides a target for developing therapeutics designed to slow the progression of PD and related α-synucleinopathies.

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