Until recently, no animal model of Parkinson's disease (PD) has adequately incorporated both widespread alpha-synuclein (?-syn) pathology and protracted significant nigrostriatal degeneration. In 2012, Luk and colleagues described how intrastriatal injection of synthetic ?-syn preformed fibrils (PFFs) into wildtype (WT) mice seeded endogenous accumulation of Lewy Body (LB)-like intracellular ?-syn inclusions and ultimate nigrostriatal degeneration. In light of the fact that the rat model system offers distinct advantages over mice (fine motor behaviors, greater synaptic complexity, genetics and pharmacokinetics more similar to humans, larger brain and body size more amenable to neurosurgical interventions and sample collection), we recently characterized the results of unilateral injection of mouse ?-syn PFFs into the striatum of rats. Similar to the mouse, we observed phosphorylated ?-syn intraneuronal accumulations in several areas that innervate the striatum, most prominently the frontal and insular cortices, the amygdala, and the substantia nigra pars compacta (SNpc). ?-Syn accumulations co-localized with ubiquitin, p62, and were thioflavin-S-positive and proteinase-k resistant. Although ?-syn inclusions within the SNpc remained ipsilateral to striatal injection, we observed bilateral reductions in nigral dopamine neurons 6 months following ?-syn PFF injection. Further, PFF injected rats exhibited reductions in striatal dopaminergic innervation as well as deficits in striatal dopamine and metabolites. This initial study demonstrates that ?-syn PFFs are sufficient to seed the pathological conversion and propagation of endogenous ?-syn to induce a progressive, neurodegenerative model of ?-synucleinopathy in rats. In the present IGNITE application we seek to identify which ?-syn species (human, mouse, rat) results in consistent loss of 60% nigral dopamine neurons over the course of 4 months after intrastriatal injection into rats (Aim 1). Once identified, we will conduct internal validation studies to systematically characterize the time course and magnitude of ?-syn pathology, striatal dopamine and metabolite loss, levels of striatal dopaminergic innervation (tyrosine hydroxylase, vesicular monoamine transporter, and dopamine transporter) and deficits in motor behaviors (Aim 2). Lastly, we will conduct PD-relevant external validation studies including: 1) investigating whether PFF-induced motor deficits are reversible with levodopa and 2) conduct non-invasive longitudinal in vivo imaging of nigrostriatal DA synthesis, storage and turnover using positron emission tomography (PET) (Aim 3). We propose that optimization, internal validation and external validation studies in the progressive rat ?-syn PFF PD model will allow for direct comparison to clinical metrics in PD patients and facilitate the development of novel disease modifying therapies.
Animal models of Parkinson's disease (PD) can serve as a platform to test novel treatment strategies. This IGNITE proposal outlines steps to optimize and validate the utility of a rat model of PD induced by the injection of preformed alpha-synuclein fibrils.