Structural heterogeneity of alpha-synuclein protein - a target site for the development of a new generation of Parkinson's drugs

α-Synuclein plays an important role in synaptic functions by interacting with synaptic vesicle membrane, while its oligomers and fibrils are associated with several neurodegenerative diseases. The specific monomer structures that promote its membrane binding and self-association remain elusive due to its transient nature as an intrinsically disordered protein.

We used inter-dye distance distributions from bulk time-resolved Förster resonance energy transfer as restraints in discrete molecular dynamics simulations to map the conformational space of the α-synuclein monomer. We further confirm the generated conformational ensemble in orthogonal experiments utilizing far-UV circular dichroism and cross-linking mass spectrometry. Single-molecule protein-induced fluorescence enhancement measurements show that within this conformational ensemble, some of the conformations of α-synuclein are surprisingly stable, exhibiting conformational transitions slower than milliseconds.

Our comprehensive analysis of the conformational ensemble reveals essential structural properties and potential conformations that promote its various functions in membrane interaction or oligomer and fibril formation.

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