Mass photometric detection and quantification of nanoscale α-synuclein phase separation

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Protein liquid-liquid phase separation can lead to disease-related amyloid fibril formation. The mechanisms of conversion of monomeric protein into condensate droplets and of the latter into fibrils remain elusive. Here, using mass photometry, we demonstrate that the Parkinson's disease-related protein, α-synuclein, can form dynamic nanoscale clusters at physiologically relevant, sub-saturated concentrations. Nanoclusters nucleate in bulk solution and promote amyloid fibril formation of the dilute-phase monomers upon ageing. Their formation is instantaneous, even under conditions where macroscopic assemblies appear only after several days. The slow growth of the nanoclusters can be attributed to a kinetic barrier, probably due to an interfacial penalty from the charged C terminus of α-synuclein. Our findings reveal that α-synuclein phase separation occurs at much wider ranges of solution conditions than reported so far. Importantly, we establish mass photometry as a promising methodology to detect and quantify nanoscale precursors of phase separation. We also demonstrate its general applicability by probing the existence of nanoclusters of a non-amyloidogenic protein, Ddx4n1.
Original languageEnglish
JournalNature Chemistry
Pages (from-to)1306-1316
Number of pages11
Publication statusPublished - 2023


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