PET imaging reveals early and progressive dopaminergic deficits after intra-striatal injection of preformed alpha-synuclein fibrils in rats

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Alpha-synuclein (a-syn) can aggregate and form toxic oligomers and insoluble fibrils which are the main component of Lewy bodies. Intra-neuronal Lewy bodies are a major pathological characteristic of Parkinson's disease (PD). These fibrillar structures can act as seeds and accelerate the aggregation of monomeric a-syn. Indeed, recent studies show that injection of preformed a-syn fibrils (PFF) into the rodent brain can induce aggregation of the endogenous monomeric a-syn resulting in neuronal dysfunction and eventual cell death. We injected 8 μg of murine a-syn PFF, or soluble monomeric a-syn into the right striatum of rats. The animals were monitored behaviourally using the cylinder test, which measures paw asymmetry, and the corridor task that measures lateralized sensorimotor response to sugar treats. In vivo PET imaging was performed after 6, 13 and 22 weeks using [11C]DTBZ, a marker of the vesicular monoamine 2 transporter (VMAT2), and after 15 and 22 weeks using [11C]UCB-J, a marker of synaptic SV2A protein in nerve terminals. Histology was performed at the 3 time points using antibodies against dopaminergic markers, aggregated a-syn, and MHCII to evaluate the immune response. While the a-syn PFF injection caused only mild behavioural changes, [11C]DTBZ PET showed significant, and progressive decreased VMAT2 binding in the ipsilateral striatum. This was accompanied by a small progressive decrease in [11C]UCB-J binding in the same area. In addition, our histological analysis revealed a gradual spread of misfolded a-syn pathology in areas anatomically connected to striatum that became bilateral with time. The striatal a-syn PFF injection resulted in a progressive unilateral degeneration of dopamine terminals, and an early and sustained presence of MHCII positive ramified microglia in the ipsilateral striatum and substantia nigra. Our study shows that striatal injections of a-syn fibrils induces progressive pathological synaptic dysfunction prior to cell death that can be detected in vivo with PET. We confirm intrastriatal injection of a-syn PFFs provides a model of progressive a-syn pathology with loss of dopaminergic and synaptic function accompanied by neuroinflammation, as found in human PD.

Original languageEnglish
Article number105229
JournalNeurobiology of Disease
Number of pages17
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2021


  • DTBZ
  • PET
  • Parkinson
  • Preformed fibrils
  • UCB-J
  • a-synuclein


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