Multiple system atrophy (MSA) is an insidious middle age-onset neurodegenerative disease that clinically presents with variable degrees of parkinsonism and cerebellar ataxia. The pathological hallmark of MSA is the progressive accumulation of glial cytoplasmic inclusions (GCIs) in oligodendrocytes that are comprised of α-synuclein (αSyn) aberrantly polymerized into fibrils. Experimentally, MSA brain samples display a high level of seeding activity to induce further αSyn aggregation by a prion-like conformational mechanism. Paradoxically, αSyn is predominantly a neuronal brain protein, with only marginal levels expressed in normal or diseased oligodendrocytes, and αSyn inclusions in other neurodegenerative diseases, including Parkinson’s disease and Dementia with Lewy bodies, are primarily found in neurons. Although GCIs are the hallmark of MSA, using a series of new monoclonal antibodies targeting the carboxy-terminal region of αSyn, we demonstrate that neuronal αSyn pathology in MSA patient brains is remarkably abundant in the pontine nuclei and medullary inferior olivary nucleus. This neuronal αSyn pathology has distinct histological properties compared to GCIs, which allows it to remain concealed to many routine detection methods associated with altered biochemical properties of the carboxy-terminal domain of αSyn. We propose that these previously underappreciated sources of aberrant αSyn could serve as a pool of αSyn prion seeds that can initiate and continue to drive the pathogenesis of MSA.

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