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Neurochem Res. 2002 May;27(5):353-7.

Inhibition of the mitochondrial respiratory chain by phenylalanine in rat cerebral cortex.

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Departamento de Bioquímica, Instituto de Ciências Básicas da Saúde, UFRGS, Porto Alegre, RS, Brazil.


Phenylketonuria (PKU) is biochemically characterized by the accumulation of phenylalanine (Phe) and its metabolites in tissues of affected children. Neurological damage is the clinical hallmark of PKU, and Phe is considered the main neurotoxic metabolite in this disorder. However, the mechanisms of neurotoxicity are poorly known. The main objective of the present work was to measure the activities of the mitochondrial respiratory chain complexes (RCC) and succinate dehydrogenase (SDH) in brain cortex of Wistar rats subjected to chemically induced hyperphenylalaninemia (HPA). We also investigated the in vitro effect of Phe on SDH and RCC activities in the cerebral cortex of 22-day-old rats. HPA was induced by subcutaneous administration of 2.4 micromol/g body weight alpha-methylphenylalanine, a phenylalanine hydroxylase inhibitor, once a day, plus 5.2 microM/g body weight phenylalanine, twice a day, from the 6th-21st postnatal day. The results showed a reduction of SDH and complex I + III activity in brain cortex of rats subjected to HPA. We also verified that Phe inhibited the in vitro activity of complexes I + III, possibly by competition with NADH. Considering the importance of SDH and RCC for the maintenance of energy supply to brain, our results suggest that energy deficit may contribute to the Phe neurotoxicity in PKU.

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