Mutations in the neuronal protein α-synuclein cause familial Parkinson disease. Phosphorylation of α-synuclein at serine 129 is prominent in Parkinson disease and influences α-synuclein neurotoxicity. Here we report that α-synuclein is also phosphorylated at tyrosine 125 in transgenic Drosophila expressing wild-type human α-synuclein and that this tyrosine phosphorylation protects from α-synuclein neurotoxicity in a Drosophila model of Parkinson disease. Western blot analysis of fly brain homogenates showed that levels of soluble oligomeric species of α-synuclein were increased by phosphorylation at serine 129 and decreased by tyrosine 125 phosphorylation. Tyrosine 125 phosphorylation diminished during the normal aging process in both humans and flies. Notably, cortical tissue from patients with the Parkinson disease-related synucleinopathy dementia with Lewy bodies showed less phosphorylation at tyrosine 125. Our findings suggest that α-synuclein neurotoxicity in Parkinson disease and related synucleinopathies may result from an imbalance between the detrimental, oligomer-promoting effect of serine 129 phosphorylation and a neuroprotective action of tyrosine 125 phosphorylation that inhibits toxic oligomer formation.
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