Analysis of age-related changes in psychosine metabolism in the human brain

Michael S. Marshall, Benas Jakubauskas, Wil Bogue, Monika Stoskute, Zane Hauck, Emily Rue, Matthew Nichols, Lisa L. DiAntonio, Richard B. Van Breemen, Jeffrey H. Kordower, Carlos A. Saavedra-Matiz, Ernesto R. Bongarzone

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Scopus citations


α-Synuclein aggregation has been linked to Gaucher's disease (GD) and Krabbe's disease (KD), lysosomal conditions affecting glycosphingolipid metabolism. α-Synuclein pathology has been directly attributed to the dysregulation of glycosphingolipids in both conditions, specifically to increased galactosylsphingosine (psychosine) content in the context of KD. Furthermore, the gene (GALC) coding for the psychosine degrading enzyme galactosylceramidase (GALC), has recently been identified as a risk loci for Parkinson's disease. However, it is unknown if changes in psychosine metabolism and GALC activity in the context of the aging human brain correlate with Parkinson's disease. We investigated psychosine accumulation and GALC activity in the aging brain using fresh frozen post-mortem tissue from Parkinson's (PD, n = 10), Alzheimer's (AD, n = 10), and healthy control patients (n = 9), along with tissue from neuropsychiatric patients (schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and depression, n = 15 each). An expanded mutational analysis of PD (n = 20), AD (n = 10), and healthy controls (n = 30) examined if PD was correlated with carriers for severe GALC mutations. Psychosine content within the cerebral cortex of PD patients was elevated above control patients. Within all patients, psychosine displayed a significant (p<0.05) and robust regional distribution in the brain with higher levels in the white matter and substantia nigra. A mutational analysis revealed an increase in the incidence of severe GALC mutations within the PD patient population compared to the cohorts of Alzheimer's patients and healthy controls tested. In addition to α-synuclein pathology identified in the KD brain, control patients identified as GALC mutational carriers or possessing a GALC pathogenic variant had evidence of α-synuclein pathology, indicating a possible correlation between α-synuclein pathology and dysregulation of psychosine metabolism in the adult brain. Carrier status for GALC mutations and prolonged exposure to increased psychosine could contribute to α-synuclein pathology, supporting psychosine metabolism by galactosylceramidase as a risk factor for Parkinson's disease.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere0193438
JournalPloS one
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2018
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences
  • General


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