Caspase-1 causes truncation and aggregation of the Parkinson's disease-associated protein α-synuclein
The aggregation of α-synuclein (aSyn) leading to the formation of Lewy bodies is the defining pathological hallmark of Parkinson's disease (PD). Rare familial PD-associated mutations in aSyn render it aggregation-prone; however, PD patients carrying wild type (WT) aSyn also have aggregated aSyn in Lewy bodies. The mechanisms by which WT aSyn aggregates are unclear. Here, we report that inflammation can play a role in causing the aggregation of WT aSyn. We show that activation of the inflammasome with known stimuli results in the aggregation of aSyn in a neuronal cell model of PD. The insoluble aggregates are enriched with truncated aSyn as found in Lewy bodies of the PD brain. Inhibition of the inflammasome enzyme caspase-1 by chemical inhibition or genetic knockdown with shRNA abated aSyn truncation. In vitro characterization confirmed that caspase-1 directly cleaves aSyn, generating a highly aggregation-prone species. The truncation-induced aggregation of aSyn is toxic to neuronal culture, and inhibition of caspase-1 by shRNA or a specific chemical inhibitor improved the survival of a neuronal PD cell model. This study provides a molecular link for the role of inflammation in aSyn aggregation, and perhaps in the pathogenesis of sporadic PD as well.