In neurodegenerative diseases, seeding is a process initiated by the internalization of exogenous protein aggregates. Multiple pathways for internalization of aggregates have been proposed, including direct membrane penetration and endocytosis. To decipher the seeding mechanisms of alpha-synuclein (αS) aggregates in human cells, we visualized αS aggregation, endo-lysosome distribution, and endo-lysosome rupture in real-time. Our data suggest that exogenous αS can seed endogenous cytoplasmic αS by either directly penetrating the plasma membrane or via endocytosis-mediated endo-lysosome rupture, leading to formation of endo-lysosome-free or endo-lysosome-associated αS aggregates, respectively. Further, we demonstrate that αS aggregates isolated from postmortem human brains with diffuse Lewy body disease (DLBD) preferentially show endocytosis-mediated seeding associated with endo-lysosome rupture and have significantly reduced seeding activity compared to recombinant αS aggregates. Colocalization of αS pathology with galectin-3 (a marker of endo-lysosomal membrane rupture) in the basal forebrain of DLBD, but not in age-matched controls, suggests endo-lysosome rupture is involved in the formation of αS pathology in humans. Interestingly, cells with endo-lysosomal membrane permeabilization (LMP) are more vulnerable to the seeding effects of αS aggregates. This study suggests that endo-lysosomal impairment in neurons might play an important role in PD progression.
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