Neuronal haemoglobin induces loss of dopaminergic neurons in mouse Substantia nigra, cognitive deficits and cleavage of endogenous α-synuclein


Cell Death & Disease


16 December, 2022


Chiara Santulli, Carlotta Bon, Elena De Cecco, Marta Codrich, Joanna Narkiewicz, Pietro Parisse, Fabio Perissinotto, Claudio Santoro, Francesca Persichetti, Giuseppe Legname, Stefano Espinoza & Stefano Gustincich

Parkinson's disease (PD) presents the selective loss of A9 dopaminergic (DA) neurons of Substantia Nigra pars compacta (SNpc) and the presence of intracellular aggregates called Lewy bodies. α-synuclein (α-syn) species truncated at the carboxy-terminal (C-terminal) accumulate in pathological inclusions and promote α-syn aggregation and toxicity. Haemoglobin (Hb) is the major oxygen carrier protein in erythrocytes. In addition, Hb is expressed in A9 DA neurons where it influences mitochondrial activity. Hb overexpression increases cells' vulnerability in a neurochemical model of PD in vitro and forms cytoplasmic and nucleolar aggregates upon short-term overexpression in mouse SNpc. In this study, α and β-globin chains were co-expressed in DA cells of SNpc in vivo upon stereotaxic injections of an Adeno-Associated Virus isotype 9 (AAV9) and in DA iMN9D cells in vitro. Long-term Hb over-expression in SNpc induced the loss of about 50% of DA neurons, mild motor impairments, and deficits in recognition and spatial working memory. Hb triggered the formation of endogenous α-syn C-terminal truncated species. Similar α-syn fragments were found in vitro in DA iMN9D cells over-expressing α and β- globins when treated with pre-formed α-syn fibrils. Our study positions Hb as a relevant player in PD pathogenesis for its ability to trigger DA cells' loss in vivo and the formation of C-terminal α-syn fragments.