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Chem Res Toxicol. 2011 Oct 17;24(10):1644-52. doi: 10.1021/tx200082h. Epub 2011 Aug 22.

Levodopa activates apoptosis signaling kinase 1 (ASK1) and promotes apoptosis in a neuronal model: implications for the treatment of Parkinson's disease.

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Department of Pharmacology, Case Western Reserve University, School of Medicine, 2109 Adelbert Road, Cleveland, OH 44106-4965, United States.


Oxidative stress is implicated in the etiology of Parkinson's disease (PD), the second most common neurodegenerative disease. PD is treated with chronic administration of l-3,4-dihydroxyphenylalanine (levodopa, L-DOPA), and typically, increasing doses are used during progression of the disease. Paradoxically, L-DOPA is a pro-oxidant and induces cell death in cellular models of PD through disruption of sulfhydryl homeostasis involving loss of the thiol-disulfide oxidoreductase functions of the glutaredoxin (Grx1) and thioredoxin (Trx1) enzyme systems [Sabens, E. A., Distler, A. M., and Mieyal, J. J. (2010) Biochemistry 49 (12), 2715-2724]. Considering this loss of both Grx1 and Trx1 activities upon L-DOPA treatment, we sought to elucidate the mechanism(s) of L-DOPA-induced apoptosis. In other contexts, both the NFκB (nuclear factor κB) pathway and the ASK1 (apoptosis signaling kinase 1) pathway have been shown to be regulated by both Grx1 and Trx1, and both pathways have been implicated in cell death signaling in model systems of PD. Moreover, mixed lineage kinase (MLK) has been considered as a potential therapeutic target for PD. Using SHSY5Y cells as model dopaminergic neurons, we found that NFκB activity was not altered by L-DOPA treatment, and the selective MLK inhibitor (CEP-1347) did not protect the cells from L-DOPA. In contrast, ASK1 was activated with L-DOPA treatment as indicated by phosphorylation of its downstream mitogen-activated protein kinases (MAPK), p38 and JNK. Chemical inhibition of either p38 or JNK provided protection from L-DOPA-induced apoptosis. Moreover, direct knockdown of ASK1 protected from L-DOPA-induced neuronal cell death. These results identify ASK1 as the main pro-apoptotic pathway activated in response to L-DOPA treatment, implicating it as a potential target for adjunct therapy in PD.

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