Nuclear alpha-synuclein is present in the human brain and is modified in dementia with Lewy bodies

David J. Koss (Lead / Corresponding author), Daniel Erskine, Andrew Porter, Pawel Palmoski, Hariharan Menon, Olivia G. J. Todd, Marta Leite, Johannes Attems, Tiago F. Outeiro (Lead / Corresponding author)

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Dementia with Lewy bodies (DLB) is pathologically defined by the cytoplasmic accumulation of alpha-synuclein (aSyn) within neurons in the brain. Predominately pre-synaptic, aSyn has been reported in various subcellular compartments in experimental models. Indeed, nuclear alpha-synuclein (aSynNuc) is evident in many models, the dysregulation of which is associated with altered DNA integrity, transcription and nuclear homeostasis. However, the presence of aSynNuc in human brain cells remains controversial, yet the determination of human brain aSynNuc and its pathological modification is essential for understanding synucleinopathies. Here, using a multi-disciplinary approach employing immunohistochemistry, immunoblot, and mass-spectrometry (MS), we confirm aSynNuc in post-mortem brain tissue obtained from DLB and control cases. Highly dependent on antigen retrieval methods, in optimal conditions, intra-nuclear pan and phospho-S129 positive aSyn puncta were observed in cortical neurons and non-neuronal cells in fixed brain sections and in isolated nuclear preparations in all cases examined. Furthermore, an increase in nuclear phospho-S129 positive aSyn immunoreactivity was apparent in DLB cases compared to controls, in both neuronal and non-neuronal cell types. Our initial histological investigations identified that aSynNuc is affected by epitope unmasking methods but present under optimal conditions, and this presence was confirmed by isolation of nuclei and a combined approach of immunoblotting and mass spectrometry, where aSynNuc was approximately tenfold less abundant in the nucleus than cytoplasm. Notably, direct comparison of DLB cases to aged controls identified increased pS129 and higher molecular weight species in the nuclei of DLB cases, suggesting putative pathogenic modifications to aSynNuc in DLB. In summary, using multiple approaches we provide several lines of evidence supporting the presence of aSynNuc in autoptic human brain tissue and, notably, that it is subject to putative pathogenic modifications in DLB that may contribute to the disease phenotype.

Original languageEnglish
Article number98
Number of pages18
JournalActa Neuropathologica Communications
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2022


  • Alpha-synuclein
  • Dementia with Lewy bodies
  • Lewy body disease
  • Nuclear pathology
  • Synucleinopathies

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pathology and Forensic Medicine
  • Clinical Neurology
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience


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