Reversible attachment of Cell-Penetrating Peptides for the efficient delivery of α-synuclein to HeLa cells and primary cortical neurons

The discovery of alpha-synuclein (a-syn) as the main component of Lewy Bodies (LBs), the pathological hallmarks of Parkinson's disease (PD), and the identification of mutations in the gene coding for a-syn in familial form of PD have reinforced the central role of a-syn in the etiology of PD. Nevertheless, the molecular mechanisms by which a-syn is involved in neurodegeneration are still not fully understood. Many studies have raised the potential role of post-translational modifications (PTMs) in regulating a-syn physiological properties but also its pathogenicity in PD development. However, a-syn can be modified simultaneously by several PTMs making it extremely challenging to understand which of those PTMs is responsible in regulating the cellular properties of a-syn. Therefore, our laboratory developed a strategy to study the role of individual PTMs using semi-synthesis, enabling the generation of site-specifically modified a-syn. However, in the absence of an efficient system to internalize these semi-synthetic proteins in cells, those proteins have been limited to biophysical and structural studies. Therefore, we proposed to use cell penetrating peptides (CPPs) to deliver site-specifically modified a-syn inside cells. In a first step, we compared CPPs to deliver a-syn inside the cells. Strikingly, only N-terminal CPP fusions were efficient in delivering it to primary cortical neurons. In order to explain the differences, we performed biophysical assays and established that C-terminal CPPs formed a hairpin with the C-terminus of a-syn, preventing penetration of the plasma membrane. N-terminal fusions displayed a more transient interaction that allowed uptake. In addition, we showed that the CPPs were enhancing the aggregation of a-syn. Among the CPPs tested, TAT fused at the N-terminus was one of the most efficient. Therefore, we evaluated its capacity to deliver a-syn in different cellular models, its subcellular localization and its stability in the cells. We started by evaluating the uptake and molecular properties of TAT- a-syn in HeLa cells and in primary cortical neurons. We found that it was rapidly and efficiently internalized and distributed in the cytosol as punctuated structures. Once internalized, TAT-a-syn was cleared from the cells through autophagy and the proteasome without promoting any cellular toxicity. Finally, TAT-a-syn phosphorylated on Serine 129 or fibrillar TAT-a-syn were also successfully delivered to cells thereby showing that our tool could be used to deliver modified a-syn in cells. However, our data suggested that TAT could influence the properties of a-syn. Thus, we aimed at improving our delivery tool by developing two reversible approaches to relieve a-syn from the influence of TAT after its uptake: 1) a photocleavable linker to release a-syn from TAT upon UV irradiation or 2) a disulfide bond which can be cleaved once in the cell. Both approaches were successful in delivering a-syn to neurons. While the photocleavable version did not allow full release, TAT-S-S-a-syn was efficiently reduced and efficient in delivering pS129 a-syn. In summary, our study allowed developing a versatile tool capable of carrying a-syn inside the cells and allowing its study in the absence of constraints originating from the presence of the CPP sequence in fusion with a-syn. We believe that this tool will be useful for the study of a-syn's PTMs, interactions and cross-talk between modifications.


Related material