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Biochim Biophys Acta. 2002 Mar 16;1586(2):210-8.

Magnetic investigations of human mesencephalic neuromelanin.

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MASPEC-CNR, Parco Area delle Scienze 37/A, 43010 Fontanini-Parma, Italy.


Pigmentation of neurons in substantia nigra is due to neuromelanin, a pigment that stores large amounts of iron. Human mesencephalic neuromelanin has been investigated by means of magnetic susceptibility measurements as a function of temperature. Magnetic measurements provide a physico-chemical characterization of the iron cluster buried in the organic melanin matrix and support the view that iron is not simply chelated, but rather is organized in a three-dimensional network. The paramagnetism of isolated iron ions is observed, in agreement with electron paramagnetic resonance spectroscopy. Furthermore, antiferromagnetic grains with a large size distribution function are present. These grains contain N spins coupled antiferromagnetically; however, N(1/2) spins are decoupled from the grain bulk and parallelly aligned. The latter subgrains are superparamagnetic with a blocking temperature ranging between 5 K and room temperature. This behavior has not been observed in synthetic melanin, where the paramagnetic contribution is strongly enhanced. Preliminary results on pigment isolated from patients affected by Parkinson's disease, a neurodegenerative pathology involving primarily pigmented neurons in substantia nigra pars compacta, show a lower total magnetization compared to control neuromelanin. The temperature behavior of zero field cooling and field cooling magnetizations is similar for both. The significant depletion of iron content in Parkinson's disease neuromelanin could indicate a progressive Fe migration from its storage environment to the cytosol.

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