Natural alkaloid harmine promotes degradation of alpha-synuclein via PKA-mediated ubiquitin-proteasome system activation

Cui Zan Cai , He Feng Zhou , Ning Ning Yuan, Ming Yue Wu, Simon Ming Yuen Lee , Jiao Yan Ren , Huan Xing Su , Jin Jian Lu , Xiu Ping Chen , Min Li , Jie Qiong Tan *, Jia Hong Lu *

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articlepeer-review

25 Citations (Scopus)



Parkinson's disease (PD) is an age-dependent progressive movement disorder characterized by a profound and selective loss of nigrostriatal dopaminergic neurons. Accumulation of <alpha>-synuclein (<alpha>-syn) positive protein aggregates in the substantia nigra is a pathological hallmark of PD, indicating that protein turnover defect is implicated in PD pathogenesis.


This study aims to identify neuroprotective compounds which can alleviate the accumulation of <alpha>-syn in neuronal cells and dissect the underlying mechanisms. 


High throughput screening was performed by dot blot assay. The degradation of different forms of <alpha>-syn by candidate compounds were assessed by western blot. The autophagy lysosome pathway and ubiquitin-proteasome system were examined to dissect the degradation pathway. The UPS activity was assessed by cellular UPS substrates degradation assay and biochemical proteasome activity assay. Q-PCR was performed to test the mRNA level of different proteasome subunits. Furthermore, Neuroprotective effect of candidate compound was tested by LDH assay and PI staining. 


Through the high throughput screening, harmine was identified as a potent <alpha>-syn lowering compound. The time-dependent and dose-dependent effects of harmine on the degradation of different forms of <alpha>-syn were further confirmed. Harmine could dramatically promote the degradation of UPS substrates GFP-CL1, Ub-R-GFP and Ub-G76V-GFP, and activate cellular proteasome activity. Mechanistically, harmine dramatically enhanced PKA phosphorylation to enhance proteasome subunit PSMD1 expression. PKA inhibitor blocked the effects of harmine in activating UPS, up regulating PSMD1 and promoting <alpha>-syn degradation, indicating that harmine enhances UPS function via PKA activation. Moreover, harmine efficiently rescued cell death induced by over-expression of <alpha>-syn, via UPS-dependent manner. 


Harmine, as a new proteasome enhancer, may have potential to be developed into therapeutic agent against neurodegenerative diseases associated with UPS dysfunction and aberrant proteins accumulation.

Original languageEnglish
Article number152842
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2019

Scopus Subject Areas

  • Molecular Medicine
  • Pharmacology
  • Pharmaceutical Science
  • Drug Discovery
  • Complementary and alternative medicine

User-Defined Keywords

  • <alpha>-synuclein
  • Harmine
  • Parkinson's disease
  • Protein kinase A
  • Ubiquitin-proteasome system


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