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      Alpha-synuclein-immunopositive myenteric neurons and vagal preganglionic terminals: autonomic pathway implicated in Parkinson's disease?

      Animals, Autonomic Fibers, Preganglionic, metabolism, Calbindin 2, Calbindins, Fluorescent Antibody Technique, Image Processing, Computer-Assisted, Immunohistochemistry, Male, Microscopy, Confocal, Myenteric Plexus, Neurons, Nitric Oxide Synthase, Parkinson Disease, pathology, Presynaptic Terminals, Rats, Rats, Inbred F344, Rats, Sprague-Dawley, S100 Calcium Binding Protein G, Vagus Nerve, alpha-Synuclein, biosynthesis

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          The protein alpha-synuclein is implicated in the development of Parkinson's disease. The molecule forms Lewy body aggregates that are hallmarks of the disease, has been associated with the spread of neuropathology from the peripheral to the CNS, and appears to be involved with the autonomic disorders responsible for the gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms of individuals afflicted with Parkinson's. To characterize the normative expression of alpha-synuclein in the innervation of the GI tract, we examined both the postganglionic neurons and the preganglionic projections by which the disease is postulated to retrogradely invade the CNS. Specifically, in Fischer 344 and Sprague-Dawley rats, immunohistochemistry in conjunction with injections of the tracer Dextran-Texas Red was used to determine, respectively, the expression of alpha-synuclein in the myenteric plexus and in the vagal terminals. Alpha-synuclein is expressed in a subpopulation of myenteric neurons, with the proportion of positive somata increasing from the stomach (approximately 3%) through duodenum (proximal, approximately 6%; distal, approximately 13%) to jejunum (approximately 22%). Alpha-synuclein is co-expressed with the nitrergic enzyme nitric oxide synthase (NOS) or the cholinergic markers calbindin and calretinin in regionally specific patterns: approximately 90% of forestomach neurons positive for alpha-synuclein express NOS, whereas approximately 92% of corpus-antrum neurons positive for alpha-synuclein express cholinergic markers. Vagal afferent endings in the myenteric plexus and the GI smooth muscle do not express alpha-synuclein, whereas, virtually all vagal preganglionic projections to the gut express alpha-synuclein, both in axons and in terminal varicosities in apposition with myenteric neurons. Vagotomy eliminates most, but not all, alpha-synuclein-positive neurites in the plexus. Some vagal preganglionic efferents expressing alpha-synuclein form varicose terminal rings around myenteric plexus neurons that are also positive for the protein, thus providing a candidate alpha-synuclein-expressing pathway for the retrograde transport of putative Parkinson's pathogens or toxins from the ENS to the CNS.

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