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Neurotox Res. 2000;2(2-3):293-310.

Neuroprotective strategies in Parkinson's disease: protection against progressive nigral damage induced by free radicals.

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Unit on Neurodegeneration and Neuroprotection, Laboratory of Clinical Science, National Institute of Mental Health, NIH, Building 10, Room 3D-41, Bethesda, MD 20892-1264, USA.


Brain undergoes neurodegeneration when excess free radicals overwhelm antioxidative defense systems during senescence, head trauma and/or neurotoxic insults. A site-specific accumulation of ferrous citrate-iron complexes in the substantia nigra dopaminergic neurons could lead to exaggerated dopamine turnover, dopamine auto-oxidation, free radical generation, and oxidant stress. Eventually, this iron-catalyzed dopamine auto-oxidation results in the accumulation of neuromelanin, a progressive loss of nigral neurons, and the development of Parkinson's disease when brain dopamine depletion is greater than 80%. Emerging evidence indicates that free radicals such as hydroxyl radicals ((.-)OH) and nitric oxide ((.-)NO) may play opposite role in cell and animal models of parkinsonism. (.-)OH is a cytotoxic oxidant whereas oNO is an atypical neuroprotective antioxidant. (.-)NO and S-nitrosoglutathione (GSNO) protect nigral neurons against oxidative stress caused by 1-methyl-4-phenylpyridinium (MPP(+)), dopamine, ferrous citrate, hemoglobin, sodium nitroprusside and peroxynitrite. MPP(+), the toxic metabolite of 1-methyl-4-phenyl-1,2,3,6-tetrahydropyridine (MPTP), increases the nigral uptake of iron complexes and dopamine overflow leading to the generation of (.-)OH, protein oxidation, lipid peroxidation, and associated retrograde degeneration. In addition to GSNO, MPP(+)-induced oxidative neurotoxicity can be prevented by antioxidants including selegiline, 7-nitroindazole, 17beta-estradiol, melatonin, alpha-phenyl-tert-butylnitrone and U78517F. Similar to selegiline, 7-nitroindazole is a MAO-B inhibitor, which blocks the bio-activation of MPTP and oxidative stress. Freshly prepared but not light exposed, (.-)NO-exhausted GSNO is about 100 times more potent than the classic antioxidant glutathione. Via S-nitrosylation, GSNO also inhibits proteolysis and cytotoxicity caused by caspases and HIV-1 protease. Furthermore, in addition to protection against serum deprivation stress, the induction of neuronal NOS1 in human cells increases tolerance to MPP(+)-induced neuro-toxicity since newly synthesized (.-)NO prevents apoptosis possibly through up-regulation of bcl-2 and down regulation of p66(shc). In conclusion, reactive oxygen species are unavoidable by-products of iron-catalyzed dopamine auto-oxidation, which can initiate lipid peroxidation, protein oxidation, DNA damage, and nigral loss, all of which can be prevented by endogenous and exogenous (.-)NO. Natural and man-made antioxidants can be employed as part of preventative or neuroprotective treatments in Parkinson's disease and perhaps dementia complexes as well. For achieving neuroprotection and neuro-rescue in early clinical parkinsonian stages, a cocktail therapy of multiple neuroprotective agents may be more effective than the current treatment with extremely high doses of a single antioxidative agent.


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