α-Synuclein (α-syn) is a small lipid-binding protein involved in vesicle trafficking whose function is poorly characterized. It is of great interest to human biology and medicine because α-syn dysfunction is associated with several neurodegenerative disorders, including Parkinson’s disease (PD). We previously created a yeast model of α-syn pathobiology, which established vesicle trafficking as a process that is particularly sensitive to α-syn expression. We also uncovered a core group of proteins with diverse activities related to α-syn toxicity that is conserved from yeast to mammalian neurons. Here, we report that a yeast strain expressing a somewhat higher level of α-syn also exhibits strong defects in mitochondrial function. Unlike our previous strain, genetic suppression of endoplasmic reticulum (ER)-to-Golgi trafficking alone does not suppress α-syn toxicity in this strain. In an effort to identify individual compounds that could simultaneously rescue these apparently disparate pathological effects of α-syn, we screened a library of 115,000 compounds. We identified a class of small molecules that reduced α-syn toxicity at micromolar concentrations in this higher toxicity strain. These compounds reduced the formation of α-syn foci, re-established ER-to-Golgi trafficking and ameliorated α-syn-mediated damage to mitochondria. They also corrected the toxicity of α-syn in nematode neurons and in primary rat neuronal midbrain cultures. Remarkably, the compounds also protected neurons against rotenone-induced toxicity, which has been used to model the mitochondrial defects associated with PD in humans. That single compounds are capable of rescuing the diverse toxicities of α-syn in yeast and neurons suggests that they are acting on deeply rooted biological processes that connect these toxicities and have been conserved for a billion years of eukaryotic evolution. Thus, it seems possible to develop novel therapeutic strategies to simultaneously target the multiple pathological features of PD.
↵* These authors contributed equally to this work