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Eur J Pharmacol. 2002 Jul 5;447(2-3):155-61.

Selective targeting of synthetic antioxidants to mitochondria: towards a mitochondrial medicine for neurodegenerative diseases?

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European Institute of Chemistry and Biology and INSERM E.9929, Université Victor Segalen-Bordeaux 2, 33076 Bordeaux cedex, France.


Mitochondria are the major source of superoxide, and are responsible for activating apoptosis and oxidative damage during acute neuronal cell death and neurodegenerative disorders like Alzheimer and Parkinson diseases. While the molecular mechanisms by which mitochondrial oxidative stress triggers apoptosis are still investigated, attempts to achieve neuroprotection using antioxidant molecules have already been successful in several models of neuronal cell death. To increase the availability of antioxidant drugs at the mitochondrial level within cells, Michael P. Murphy recently proposed to covalently couple antioxidant molecules to a membrane-permeable lipophilic cation serving as carrier. Since mitochondria maintain at rest a potential of -180 mV, the diffusible cationic moiety drives the accumulation of the complex inside the matrix towards a diffusion equilibrium: for a monovalent cationic carrier, a thousand-fold accumulation of the complex is theoretically achievable; for a divalent cation, a million-fold accumulation is expected. Such mitochondria-targeted versions of natural antioxidants have successfully been synthesized and were found to counteract the pro-apoptotic effects of exogenous oxidative insults, while having no effects in models mimicking physiological apoptosis. Based on these observations, we carried out the synthesis of targeted variants of the artificial free radical scavengers 4-hydroxy-2,2,6,6-tetramethylpiperidin-N-oxide (TEMPOL) and Salen-Mn(III) complex of o-vanillin (EUK-134). Our preliminary results indicate that these targeted compounds, while delaying apoptosis after an exogenous oxidative insult, are not more active than their untargeted variants. This questions the general efficiency of the targeting procedure used and/or suggests that the main pro-apoptotic effector targets of exogenous oxidative insults are not located within mitochondria.

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