Genetic and biochemical abnormalities of α-synuclein are associated with the pathogenesis of Parkinson's disease. In the present study we investigated the in vivo interaction of mouse and human α-synuclein with the potent parkinsonian neurotoxin, MPTP. We find that while lack of mouse α-synuclein in mice is associated with reduced vulnerability to MPTP, increased levels of human α-synuclein expression is not associated with obvious changes in the vulnerability of dopaminergic neurons to MPTP. However, expressing human α-synuclein variants (human wild type or A53T) in the asynuclein null mice completely restores the vulnerability of nigral dopaminergic neurons to MPTP. These results indicate that human α-synuclein can functionally replace mouse α-synuclein in regard to vulnerability of dopaminergic neurons to MPTP-toxicity. Significantly, α-synuclein null mice and wild type mice were equally sensitive to neurodegeneration induced by 2′NH2-MPTP, a MPTP analog that is selective for serotoninergic and noradrenergic neurons. These results suggest that effects of α-synuclein on MPTP like compounds are selective for nigral dopaminergic neurons. Immunoblot analysis of bsynuclein and Akt levels in the mice reveals selective increases in β-synuclein and phosphorylated Akt levels in ventral midbrain, but not in other brain regions, of α-synuclein null mice, implicating the α-synuclein-level dependent regulation of β-synuclein expression in modulation of MPTP-toxicity by α-synuclein. Together these findings provide new mechanistic insights on the role α-synuclein in modulating neurodegenerative phenotypes by regulation of Akt-mediated cell survival signaling in vivo. © 2011 Thomas et al.