Cross-seeding of prions by aggregated α-synuclein leads to transmissible spongiform encephalopathy
Aggregation of misfolded proteins or peptides is a common feature of neurodegenerative diseases including Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Huntington’s, prion and other diseases. Recent years have witnessed a growing number of reports of overlap in neuropathological features that were once thought to be unique to only one neurodegenerative disorder. However, the origin for the overlap remains unclear. One possibility is that diseases with mixed brain pathologies might arise from cross-seeding of one amyloidogenic protein by aggregated states of unrelated proteins. In the current study we examined whether prion replication can be induced by cross-seeding by α-synuclein or Aβ peptide. We found that α-synuclein aggregates formed in cultured cells or in vitro display cross-seeding activity and trigger misfolding of the prion protein (PrPC) in serial Protein Misfolding Cyclic Amplification reactions, producing self-replicating PrP states characterized by a short C-terminal proteinase K (PK)-resistant region referred to as PrPres. Non-fibrillar α-synuclein or fibrillar Aβ failed to cross-seed misfolding of PrPC. Remarkably, PrPres triggered by aggregated α-synuclein in vitro propagated in animals and, upon serial transmission, produced PrPSc and clinical prion disease characterized by spongiosis and astrocytic gliosis. The current study demonstrates that aggregated α-synuclein is potent in cross-seeding of prion protein misfolding and aggregation in vitro, producing self-replicating states that can lead to transmissible prion diseases upon serial passaging in wild type animals. In summary, the current work documents direct cross-seeding between unrelated amyloidogenic proteins associated with different neurodegenerative diseases. This study suggests that early interaction between unrelated amyloidogenic proteins might underlie the etiology of mixed neurodegenerative proteinopathies.