N-terminal acetylation mutants affect alpha-synuclein stability, protein levels and neuronal toxicity
Alpha-synuclein (aSyn) protein levels are sufficient to drive Parkinson's disease (PD) and other synucleinopathies. Despite the biomedical/therapeutic potential of aSyn protein regulation, little is known about mechanisms that limit/control aSyn levels. Here, we investigate the role of a post-translational modification, N-terminal acetylation, in aSyn neurotoxicity. N-terminal acetylation occurs in all aSyn molecules and has been proposed to determine its lipid binding and aggregation capacities; however, its effect in aSyn stability/neurotoxicity has not been evaluated. We generated N-terminal mutants that alter or block physiological aSyn N-terminal acetylation in wild-type or pathological mutant E46K aSyn versions and confirmed N-terminal acetylation status by mass spectrometry. By optical pulse-labeling in living primary neurons we documented a reduced half-life and accumulation of aSyn N-terminal mutants. To analyze the effect of N-terminal acetylation mutants in neuronal toxicity we took advantage of a neuronal model where aSyn toxicity was scored by longitudinal survival analysis. Salient features of aSyn neurotoxicity were previously investigated with this approach. aSyn-dependent neuronal death was recapitulated either by higher aSyn protein levels in the case of WT aSyn, or by the combined effect of protein levels and enhanced neurotoxicity conveyed by the E46K mutation. aSyn N-terminal mutations decreased E46K aSyn-dependent neuronal death both by reducing protein levels and, importantly, by reducing the intrinsic E46K aSyn toxicity, being the D2P mutant the least toxic. Together, our results illustrate that the N-terminus determines, most likely through its acetylation, aSyn protein levels and toxicity, identifying this modification as a potential therapeutic target.