Abstract

Parkinson’s disease (PD) and related neurodegenerative disorders, termed the synucleinopathies, are characterized pathologically by the accumulation of protein aggregates containing α-synuclein (aSyn), resulting in progressive neuronal loss. There is considerable need for the development of neuroprotective strategies to halt or slow disease progression in these disorders. To this end, evaluation of genetic mutations associated with the synucleinopathies has helped to elucidate crucial mechanisms of disease pathogenesis, revealing key roles for lysosomal and mitochondrial dysfunction. The GBA1 gene, which encodes the lysosomal hydrolase β-glucocerebrosidase (GCase) is the most common genetic risk factor for PD and is also linked to other neurodegenerative disorders including dementia with Lewy bodies (DLB). Additionally, homozygous mutations in GBA1 are associated with the rare lysosomal storage disorder, Gaucher’s disease (GD). In this review, we discuss the current knowledge in the field regarding the diverse roles of GCase in neurons and the multifactorial effects of loss of GCase enzymatic activity. Importantly, GCase has been shown to have a bidirectional relationship with aSyn, resulting in a pathogenic feedback loop that can lead to progressive aSyn accumulation. Alterations in GCase activity have furthermore been linked to multiple distinct pathways involved in neurodegeneration, and therefore GCase has emerged as a promising target for therapeutic drug development for PD and related neurodegenerative disorders, particularly DLB.

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