Intraneuronal α-synuclein (α-Syn) aggregates known as Lewy bodies (LBs) and the loss of dopaminergic neurons in the substantia nigra pars compacta (SNpc) are the pathological hallmarks of Parkinson’s disease (PD). Braak’s hypothesis based on autopsy studies suggests that Lewy pathology initially occurs in the enteric nervous system (ENS) and then travels retrogradely to the dorsal motor nucleus of the vagus nerve (dmX), proceeding from there in a caudo-rostral direction. Recent evidence that α-Syn aggregates propagate between interconnected neurons supports this hypothesis. However, there is no direct evidence demonstrating this transmission from the ENS to the dmX and then to the SNpc.
We inoculated α-Syn preformed fibrils (PFFs) or phosphate-buffered saline (PBS) into the mouse gastric wall and analyzed the progression of the pathology.
The mice inoculated with α-Syn PFFs, but not with PBS, developed phosphorylated α-Syn (p-α-Syn)–positive LB-like aggregates in the dmX at 45 days postinoculation. This aggregate formation was completely abolished when vagotomy was performed prior to inoculation of α-Syn PFFs, suggesting that the aggregates in the dmX were retrogradely induced via the vagus nerve. Unexpectedly, the number of neurons containing p-α-Syn–positive aggregates in the dmX decreased over time, and no further caudo-rostral propagation beyond the dmX was observed up to 12 months postinoculation. P-α-Syn–positive aggregates were also present in the myenteric plexus at 12 months postinoculation. However, unlike in patients with PD, there was no cell-type specificity in neurons containing those aggregates in this model.
Conclusions: These results indicate that α-Syn PFF inoculation into the mouse gastrointestinal tract can induce α-Syn pathology resembling that of very early PD, but other factors are apparently required if further progression of PD pathology is to be replicated in this animal model.