Skin Biopsy Detection of Phosphorylated α-Synuclein in Patients with Synucleinopathies

Congratulations to Dr. Nikolaus R. McFarland, on the publication of “Skin Biopsy Detection of Phosphorylated α-Synuclein in Patients with Synucleinopathies,” which can be found in the March 2024 edition of JAMA.


Importance Finding a reliable diagnostic biomarker for the disorders collectively known as synucleinopathies (Parkinson disease [PD], dementia with Lewy bodies [DLB], multiple system atrophy [MSA], and pure autonomic failure [PAF]) is an urgent unmet need. Immunohistochemical detection of cutaneous phosphorylated α-synuclein may be a sensitive and specific clinical test for the diagnosis of synucleinopathies.

Objective To evaluate the positivity rate of cutaneous α-synuclein deposition in patients with PD, DLB, MSA, and PAF.

Design, Setting, and Participants This blinded, 30-site, cross-sectional study of academic and community-based neurology practices conducted from February 2021 through March 2023 included patients aged 40 to 99 years with a clinical diagnosis of PD, DLB, MSA, or PAF based on clinical consensus criteria and confirmed by an expert review panel and control participants aged 40 to 99 years with no history of examination findings or symptoms suggestive of a synucleinopathy or neurodegenerative disease. All participants completed detailed neurologic examinations and disease-specific questionnaires and underwent skin biopsy for detection of phosphorylated α-synuclein. An expert review panel blinded to pathologic data determined the final participant diagnosis. Exposure Skin biopsy for detection of phosphorylated α-synuclein.

Main Outcomes Rates of detection of cutaneous α-synuclein in patients with PD, MSA, DLB, and PAF and controls without synucleinopathy.

Results Of 428 enrolled participants, 343 were included in the primary analysis (mean [SD] age, 69.5 [9.1] years; 175 [51.0%] male); 223 met the consensus criteria for a synucleinopathy and 120 met criteria as controls after expert panel review. The proportions of individuals with cutaneous phosphorylated α-synuclein detected by skin biopsy were 92.7% (89 of 96) with PD, 98.2% (54 of 55) with MSA, 96.0% (48 of 50) with DLB, and 100% (22 of 22) with PAF; 3.3% (4 of 120) of controls had cutaneous phosphorylated α-synuclein detected.

Conclusions and Relevance In this cross-sectional study, a high proportion of individuals meeting clinical consensus criteria for PD, DLB, MSA, and PAF had phosphorylated α-synuclein detected by skin biopsy. Further research is needed in unselected clinical populations to externally validate the findings and fully characterize the potential role of skin biopsy detection of phosphorylated α-synuclein in clinical care.