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Toxicology. 2000 Apr 14;145(2-3):85-101.

The probable involvement of soluble and deposited melanins, their intermediates and the reactive oxygen side-products in human diseases and aging.

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Department of Surgery and Charles A. Dana Research Institute, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Harvard Medical School, East Campus, 330 Brookline Avenue, Boston, MA 02215, USA.


The plasma soluble melanins (PSM) form spontaneously in vitro and in vivo and their formation involves oxidative polymerization and copolymerization of dopa, catecholamines, homogentisic acid, 3-hydroxyanthranilic acid, p-aminophenol, p-phenylenediamine, and other end(ex)ogenous ortho and para polyhydroxy-, (poly)hydroxy(poly)amino- and polyamino-phenyl compounds. The build up of PSM is visible within 2-3 h after the start of incubation at 37 degrees C with 1 mg/ml of plasma. PSM also form similarly in blood and these processes cause hemolysis. The mean quantity of PSM in normal human plasma is 1.61+/-0.1 (S.D.) mg/ml (n = 20) and in normal human urine is 1.1+/-1.2 g/24 h collection (n = 8). They contribute to the yellow color of plasma and urine. Antioxidants delay the formation of PSM. The deposited melanins also form from these precursors. Reactive oxygen side products (ROSP) are generated during and after melanogenesis. Melanins in vivo are generally associated with proteins or with proteins and lipids. The PSM-protein-lipid complexes are called plasma soluble lipofuscins (PSL), because they have histochemical and fluorescence properties similar to those of solid lipofuscins. The soluble and deposited melanins (SDM) and their intermediates have similar toxic chemical reactivities. The oxidizing quinoid (they can produce partially and completely substituted conjugates) and the semiquinoid free radical intermediates are also moieties in most human melanin structures. Soluble melanins formed from dopa, or dopamine, or norepinephrine in weak alkaline solution have been shown to be toxic to human CD4+ lymphoblastic cells (MT-2) at higher than 10 microg/ml concentrations. Alkaptonuria with high levels of homogentisic acid in the plasma is a potentially fatal disease, exhibiting the toxic effects of the homogentisic acid melanin (soluble and deposited), its intermediates and the ROSP. Patients with alkaptonuria develop arthritis and often suffer from other diseases too, including cardiovascular disease (frequent cause of death) and kidney disease. Pheochromocytoma, with high levels of catecholamines in the plasma is another potentially fatal disease. The catecholamine PSM of pheochromocytoma have very light yellow or practically no colors, due to the concentrations and chemical structures. Pheochromocytomas can cause hypertension, cardiovascular disease (frequent cause of death), kidney disease, stroke, cancer, amyloid formation and can mimic many other diseases, including acute pancreatitis, carcinoid, neuroblastoma, psychiatric illness, hypercalcemia, retinal vascular lesions, and diabetes mellitus. Pheochromocytoma is potentially fatal even in patients without hypertension. Following trauma and surgery, heavily pigmented eyes are apt to experience greater inflammation than lightly pigmented eyes. In Parkinson's disease those neurons are lost first in the substantia nigra and locus ceruleus which contain the greatest amounts of neuromelanins. The antihypertensive alphamethyldopa causes Parkinson's syndrome. It forms PSM in a short time in vitro. The side effects of L-dopa (immobility episodes alternate with normal or involuntary movements; psychotic abnormalities) suggest that the SDM, their intermediates and the ROSP present naturally in vivo are involved in the cause of Parkinson's disease and Alzheimer's disease. There is a large overlap between these two diseases. (ABSTRACT TRUNCATED).

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