Specific neuronal populations display high vulnerability to pathological processes in Parkinson’s disease (PD). The dorsal motor nucleus of the vagus nerve (DMnX) is a primary site of pathological α-synuclein deposition and may play a key role in the spreading of α-synuclein lesions within and outside the CNS. Using in vivo models, we show that cholinergic neurons forming this nucleus are particularly susceptible to oxidative challenges and accumulation of ROS. Targeted α-synuclein overexpression within these neurons triggered an oxidative stress that became more pronounced after exposure to the ROS-generating agent paraquat. A more severe oxidative stress resulted in enhanced production of oxidatively modified forms of α-synuclein, increased α-synuclein aggregation into oligomeric species, and marked degeneration of DMnX neurons. Enhanced oxidative stress also affected neuron-to-neuron protein transfer, causing an increased spreading of α-synuclein from the DMnX toward more rostral brain regions. In vitro experiments confirmed a greater propensity of α-synuclein to pass from cell to cell under prooxidant conditions and identified nitrated α-synuclein forms as highly transferable protein species. These findings substantiate the relevance of oxidative injury in PD pathogenetic processes, establish a relationship between oxidative stress and vulnerability to α-synuclein pathology, and define a mechanism, enhanced cell-to-cell α-synuclein transmission, by which oxidative stress could promote PD development and progression.


Ruth E. Musgrove, Michael Helwig, Eun-Jin Bae, Helia Aboutalebi, Seung-Jae Lee, Ayse Ulusoy, Donato A. Di Monte


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