Mutations in the leucine-rich repeat kinase 2 (LRRK2) gene are associated with familial and sporadic forms of Parkinson's disease (PD), for which the LRRK2 locus itself represents a risk factor. Idiopathic and LRRK2-related PD share the main clinical and neuropathological features, thus animals harboring the most common LRRK2 mutations, i.e. G2019S and R1441C/G, have been generated to replicate the parkinsonian phenotype and investigate the underlying pathological mechanisms. Most LRRK2 rodent models, however, fail to show the main neuropathological hallmarks of the disease i.e. the degeneration of dopaminergic neurons in the substantia nigra pars compacta and presence of Lewy bodies or Lewy body-like aggregates of α-synuclein, lacking face validity. Rather, they manifest dysregulation in cellular pathways and functions that confer susceptibility to a variety of parkinsonian toxins/triggers and model the presymptomatic/premotor stages of the disease. Among such susceptibility factors, dysregulation of synaptic activity and proteostasis are evident in LRRK2 mutants. These abnormalities are also manifest in the PD brain and represent key events in the development and progression of the pathology. The present minireview covers recent articles (2018–2021) investigating the role of LRRK2 and LRRK2 mutants in the regulation of synaptic activity and autophagy-lysosomal pathway. These articles confirm a perturbation of synaptic vesicle endocytosis and glutamate release in LRRK2 mutants. Likewise, LRRK2 mutants show a marked impairment of selective forms of autophagy (i.e. mitophagy and chaperone-mediated autophagy) and lysosomal function, with minimal perturbations of nonselective autophagy. Thus, LRRK2 rodents might help understand the contribution of these pathways to PD.

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