Endogenous alpha-synuclein monomers, oligomers and resulting pathology: let’s talk about the lipids in the room

Bryan A. Killinger, Ronald Melki, Patrik Brundin, Jeffrey H. Kordower

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

52 Scopus citations


Alpha-synuclein is an intrinsically disordered, highly dynamic protein that pathogenically aggregates into inclusion structures called Lewy bodies, in several neurogenerative diseases termed synucleinopathies. Despite its importance for understanding disease, the oligomerization status of alpha-synuclein in healthy cells remains unclear. Alpha-synuclein may exist predominantly as either a monomer or a variety of oligomers of different molecular weights. There is solid evidence to support both theories. Detection of apparent endogenous oligomers are intimately dependent on vesicle and lipid interactions. Here we consider the possibility that apparent endogenous alpha-synuclein oligomers are in fact conformations of membrane-bound alpha-synuclein and not a bona fide stable soluble species. This perspective posits that the formation of any alpha-synuclein oligomers within the cell is likely toxic and interconversion between monomer and oligomer is tightly controlled. This differs from the hypothesis that there is a continuum of endogenous non-toxic oligomers and they convert, through unclear mechanisms, to toxic oligomers. The distinction is important, because it clarifies the biological origin of synucleinopathy. We suggest that a monomer-only, lipid-centric view of endogenous alpha-synuclein aggregation can explain how alpha-synuclein pathology is triggered, and that the interactions between alpha-synuclein and lipids can represent a target for therapeutic intervention. This discussion is well-timed due to recent studies that show lipids are a significant component of Lewy pathology.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number23
Journalnpj Parkinson's Disease
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 1 2019
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neurology
  • Clinical Neurology
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience


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