Post-mortem analyses of brains from patients with Parkinson disease who received fetal mesencephalic transplants show that α-synuclein–containing (α-syn–containing) Lewy bodies gradually appear in grafted neurons. Here, we explored whether intercellular transfer of α-syn from host to graft, followed by seeding of α-syn aggregation in recipient neurons, can contribute to this phenomenon. We assessed α-syn cell-to-cell transfer using microscopy, flow cytometry, and high-content screening in several coculture model systems. Coculturing cells engineered to express either GFP– or DsRed-tagged α-syn resulted in a gradual increase in double-labeled cells. Importantly, α-syn–GFP derived from 1 neuroblastoma cell line localized to red fluorescent aggregates in other cells expressing DsRed–α-syn, suggesting a seeding effect of transmitted α-syn. Extracellular α-syn was taken up by cells through endocytosis and interacted with intracellular α-syn. Next, following intracortical injection of recombinant α-syn in rats, we found neuronal uptake was attenuated by coinjection of an endocytosis inhibitor. Finally, we demonstrated in vivo transfer of α-syn between host cells and grafted dopaminergic neurons in mice overexpressing human α-syn. In summary, intercellularly transferred α-syn interacts with cytoplasmic α-syn and can propagate α-syn pathology. These results suggest that α-syn propagation is a key element in the progression of Parkinson disease pathology.
Christian Hansen, Elodie Angot, Ann-Louise Bergström, Jennifer A. Steiner, Laura Pieri, Gesine Paul, Tiago F. Outeiro, Ronald Melki, Pekka Kallunki, Karina Fog, Jia-Yi Li, Patrik Brundin