α-Synuclein is likely to play a key role in the development of Parkinson's disease as well as other synucleinopathies. In animal models, overexpression of full-length or carboxy-terminally truncated α-synuclein has been shown to produce pathology. Although the proteosome and lysosome have been proposed to play a role in the degradation of α-synuclein, the enzyme(s) involved in α-synuclein clearance and generation of its carboxy-terminally truncated species have not been identified. In this study, the role of cathepsin D and calpain I in these processes was analyzed. In vitro experiments, using either recombinant or endogenous α-synuclein as substrates and purified cathepsin D or lysosomes, demonstrated that cathepsin D degraded α-synuclein very efficiently, and that limited proteolysis resulted in the generation of carboxy-terminally truncated species. Purified calpain I also cleaved α-synuclein, but carboxy-terminally truncated species were not the main cleavage products, and calpain I activity present in cellular lysates was not able to degrade the protein. Knockdown of cathepsin D in cells overexpressing wild-type α-synuclein increased total α-synuclein levels by 28% and lysosomal α-synuclein by 2-fold. In in vitro experiments, pepstatin A completely blocked the degradation of α-synuclein in purified lysosomes. Furthermore, lysosomes isolated from cathepsin D knockdown cells showed a marked reduction in α-synuclein degrading activity, indicating that cathepsin D is the main lysosomal enzyme involved in α-synuclein degradation. Our findings suggest that upregulation of cathepsin D could be an additional therapeutic strategy to lessen α-synuclein burden in synucleinopathies.
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