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J Neurochem. 1994 Apr;62(4):1503-10.

Differential cytotoxicities of N-methyl-beta-carbolinium analogues of MPP+ in PC12 cells: insights into potential neurotoxicants in Parkinson's disease.

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Department of Molecular and Cellular Biochemistry, Loyola University Stritch School of Medicine, Maywood, Illinois.


N-Methylated beta-carbolinium cations that can form in vivo from environmental or endogenous beta-carbolines are putative neurotoxic factors in Parkinson's disease. The cytotoxicities of 11 N-methylated beta-carbolinium cations and N-methyl-4-phenylpyridinium cation (MPP+), the experimental parkinsonian neurotoxicant which the carbolinium cations structurally resemble, were examined using rat pheochromocytoma (PC12) cells cultured in "low energy" N-5 medium; cell death was estimated by released lactate dehydrogenase activity and viable cell protein. Of the eight N2-monomethylated beta-carbolinium cations utilized, only 2-methyl-harmalinium (harmaline-2-methiodide) was as cytotoxic as MPP+. Also, three N2(beta), N9(indole)-dimethylated beta-carbolinium cations displayed cytotoxic effects, with the simplest, 2,9-dimethylnorharmanium, approaching the effectiveness of MPP+ in PC12 cells cultured in N-5 medium. However, when PC12 cells grown in higher energy Dulbecco's modified Eagle's medium were utilized with selected effective cations, it was observed that the cultures were relatively resistant to MPP+ and 2,9-dimethylnorharmanium, but remained vulnerable to 2-methylharmalinium. The results are interpreted to mean that different cytotoxic mechanisms exist for the two most potent beta-carbolinium cations--namely, a mechanism for the 2,9-dimethyl-beta-carbolinium species that, as with MPP+, is conditional on mitochondrial ATP depletion, but a different (or additional) mechanism for 2-methylharmalinium that is independent of mitochondrial inhibition. The possible accumulation of these cytotoxic cations in Parkinson's disease is discussed in the context of these findings.

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