Alpha-synuclein is a presynaptic protein that forms abnormal cytoplasmic aggregates in Lewy body disorders. Although nuclear alpha-synuclein localization has been described, its function in the nucleus is not well understood. We demonstrate that alpha-synuclein modulates DNA repair. First, alpha-synuclein colocalizes with DNA damage response components within discrete foci in human cells and mouse brain. Removal of alpha-synuclein in human cells leads to increased DNA double-strand break (DSB) levels after bleomycin treatment and a reduced ability to repair these DSBs. Similarly, alpha-synuclein knock-out mice show increased neuronal DSBs that can be rescued by transgenic reintroduction of human alpha-synuclein. Alpha-synuclein binds double-stranded DNA and helps to facilitate the non-homologous end-joining reaction. Using a new, in vivo imaging approach that we developed, we find that serine-129-phosphorylated alpha-synuclein is rapidly recruited to DNA damage sites in living mouse cortex. We find that Lewy inclusion-containing neurons in both mouse model and human-derived patient tissue demonstrate increased DSB levels. Based on these data, we propose a model whereby cytoplasmic aggregation of alpha-synuclein reduces its nuclear levels, increases DSBs, and may contribute to programmed cell death via nuclear loss-of-function. This model could inform development of new treatments for Lewy body disorders by targeting alpha-synuclein-mediated DNA repair mechanisms.
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