Multiple system atrophy (MSA) is one of the few neurodegenerative disorders where we have a significant understanding of the clinical and pathological manifestations but where the aetiology remains almost completely unknown. Research to overcome this hurdle is gaining momentum through international research collaboration and a series of genetic and molecular discoveries in the last few years, which have advanced our knowledge of this rare synucleinopathy. In MSA, the discovery of α-synuclein pathology and glial cytoplasmic inclusions remain the most significant findings. Families with certain types of α-synuclein mutations develop diseases that mimic MSA, and the spectrum of clinical and pathological features in these families suggests a spectrum of severity, from late-onset Parkinson's disease to MSA. Nonetheless, controversies persist, such as the role of common α-synuclein variants in MSA and whether this disorder shares a common mechanism of spreading pathology with other protein misfolding neurodegenerative diseases. Here, we review these issues, specifically focusing on α-synuclein mutations.