α-Synuclein (α-syn), a protein of unknown function, is the most abundant protein in Lewy bodies, the histological hallmark of Parkinson's disease (PD). In yeast α-syn inhibits endoplasmic reticulum (ER)-to-Golgi (ER→Golgi) vesicle trafficking, which is rescued by overexpression of a Rab GTPase that regulates ER→Golgi trafficking. The homologous Rab1 rescues α-syn toxicity in dopaminergic neuronal models of PD. Here we investigate this conserved feature of α-syn pathobiology. In a cell-free system with purified transport factors α-syn inhibited ER→Golgi trafficking in an α-syn dose-dependent manner. Vesicles budded efficiently from the ER, but their docking or fusion to Golgi membranes was inhibited. Thus, the in vivo trafficking problem is due to a direct effect of α-syn on the transport machinery. By ultrastructural analysis the earliest in vivo defect was an accumulation of morphologically undocked vesicles, starting near the plasma membrane and growing into massive intracellular vesicular clusters in a dose-dependent manner. By immunofluorescence/immunoelectron microscopy, these clusters were associated both with α-syn and with diverse vesicle markers, suggesting that α-syn can impair multiple trafficking steps. Other Rabs did not ameliorate α-syn toxicity in yeast, but RAB3A, which is highly expressed in neurons and localized to presynaptic termini, and RAB8A, which is localized to post-Golgi vesicles, suppressed toxicity in neuronal models of PD. Thus, α-syn causes general defects in vesicle trafficking, to which dopaminergic neurons are especially sensitive. © 2007 by The National Academy of Sciences of the USA.