In dopaminergic neurons, a-synuclein (aS) partitions between a disordered cytosolic state and a lipid-bound state. Binding of aS to membrane phospholipids is implicated in its functional role of synaptic regulation, but also impacts fibril formation associated with Parkinson's disease. A 2011 study by Selkoe et al reported that if aS is expressed in mammalian cells and purified without a heat denaturation step, it adopts a stable tetrameric helical structure. We developed this expression system but were unable to duplicate their findings. However, we found by high-resolution NMR spectroscopy and circular dichroism (CD) measurements, that the N-terminal acetylation which occurs in mammalian cells impacts the protein's structure and dynamics in free solution and also affects the protein's membrane binding properties. While no tetrameric form of acetylated aS could be isolated, N-terminal acetylation resulted in chemical shift perturbations of the first 12 residues of the protein which progressively decreased with distance from the N-terminus. The directions of the chemical shift changes and small changes in backbone 3JHH couplings are consistent with an increase in alpha-helicity of the first six residues of aS, although a high degree of dynamic conformational disorder remains and the helical structure is sampled less than 20%. Chemical shift and 3JHH data for the intact protein are virtually indistinguishable from those recorded for the corresponding N-terminally acetylated and non-acetylated 15-residue synthetic peptides. An increase in alpha-helicity at the N-terminus of aS is supported by CD data on the acetylated peptide, and by weak medium-range NOE contacts indicative of alpha-helical character. The remainder of the protein has chemical shift values that are very close to random coil values and indistinguishable between the two forms of the protein. No significant difference in the fibrillation kinetics were observed between acetylated and non-acetylated aS. However, the lipid binding properties of aS are strongly impacted by acetylation, and exhibit distinct behavior for the first 12 residues, indicative of an initiation role for the N-terminal residues in an "initiation-elongation" process of binding to the membrane. A novel method for probing the membrane binding of alpha-synuclein has been developed which relies on the spontaneous oxidation of its Met residues when a small fraction of the lipids in small unilamellar vesicles (SUVs) contain peroxidized alkane chains. Probing of the rates of oxidation of different Met residues in synuclein revealed a strong degree of cooperativity in the binding of the N-terminal 50 residues of the protein to the membrane surface.

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Maltsev, Alexander S; Chen, Jue; Levine, Rodney L et al. (2013) Site-specific interaction between ýý-synuclein and membranes probed by NMR-observed methionine oxidation rates. J Am Chem Soc 135:2943-6
Bodner, Christina R; Dobson, Christopher M; Bax, Ad (2009) Multiple tight phospholipid-binding modes of alpha-synuclein revealed by solution NMR spectroscopy. J Mol Biol 390:775-90