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Parkinson's disease (PD) is characterized by the death of dopamine neurons in the substantia nigra pars compacta (SNc) and accumulation of α-synuclein. Impaired autophagy has been implicated and activation of autophagy proposed as a treatment strategy. We generate a human α-synuclein-expressing mouse model of PD with macroautophagic failure in dopamine neurons to understand the interaction between impaired macroautophagy and α-synuclein. We find that impaired macroautophagy generates p62-positive inclusions and progressive neuron loss in the SNc. Despite this parkinsonian pathology, motor phenotypes accompanying human α-synuclein overexpression actually improve with impaired macroautophagy. Real-time fast-scan cyclic voltammetry reveals that macroautophagy impairment in dopamine neurons increases evoked extracellular concentrations of dopamine, reduces dopamine uptake, and relieves paired-stimulus depression. Our findings show that impaired macroautophagy paradoxically enhances dopamine neurotransmission, improving movement while worsening pathology, suggesting that changes to dopamine synapse function compensate for and conceal the underlying PD pathogenesis, with implications for therapies that target autophagy.

Original publication




Journal article


Cell Rep

Publication Date





920 - 931.e7


Parkinson’s disease, autophagy, behavior, dopamine, mouse models, neurotransmission, pathology