Synucleinopathies including Parkinson's disease (PD) and Dementia with Lewy bodies (DLB) are characterized by the accumulation of abnormal α-synuclein in intraneuronal inclusions, named Lewy bodies. Mutations in GBA1, the gene encoding the lysosomal hydrolase glucocerebrosidase, have been identified as the most common genetic risk factor for PD and DLB. However, despite extensive research, the mechanism by which glucocerebrosidase dysfunction increases the risk for PD or DLB still remains elusive. In our study we expand the toolbox for PD-DLB post-mortem studies by introducing new quantitative biochemical assays for glucocerebrosidase and α-synuclein. Applying causal modelling, we determine how these parameters are interrelated and ultimately impact disease manifestation. We developed quantitative immuno-based assays for glucocerebrosidase and α-synuclein (total and phosphorylated at Serine 129) protein levels, as well as a liquid chromatography–mass spectrometry method for the detection of the glucocerebrosidase lipid substrate glucosylsphingosine. These assays were applied on tissue samples from frontal cortex, putamen and substantia nigra of PD (n = 15) and DLB (n = 15) patients and age-matched non-demented controls (n = 15). Our results confirm elevated p-129 over total α-synuclein levels in the insoluble fraction of PD and DLB post-mortem brain tissue and we found significantly increased α-synuclein levels in the soluble fractions in PD and DLB. Furthermore, we identified an inverse correlation between reduced glucocerebrosidase enzyme activity and protein levels with increased glucosylsphingosine levels. In the substantia nigra, a brain region particularly vulnerable in Parkinson's disease, we found a significant correlation between glucocerebrosidase protein reduction and increased p129/total α-synuclein ratios. We assessed the direction and strength of the interrelation between all measured parameters by confirmatory path analysis. Interestingly, we found that glucocerebrosidase dysfunction impacts the PD-DLB status by increasing α-synuclein ratios in the substantia nigra, which was partly mediated by increasing glucosylsphingosine levels. In conclusion, we show that the introduced immuno-based assays enable the quantitative assessment of glucocerebrosidase and α-synuclein parameters in post-mortem brain. In the substantia nigra, reduced glucocerebrosidase levels contribute to the increase in α-synuclein levels and to PD-DLB disease manifestation partly by increasing its glycolipid substrate glucosylsphingosine. This interrelation between glucocerebrosidase, glucosylsphingosine and α-synuclein parameters supports the hypothesis that glucocerebrosidase acts as a modulator of PD-DLB.
Gündner, A. L., Duran-Pacheco, G., Zimmermann, S., Ruf, I., Moors, T., Baumann, K., ... Kremer, T. (2019). Path mediation analysis reveals GBA impacts Lewy body disease status by increasing α-synuclein levels. Neurobiology of Disease, 121, 205-213. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.nbd.2018.09.015