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Oxidation Chemistry of Catecholamines and Neuronal Degeneration: An Update

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Aberrant oxidative pathways of catecholamine neurotransmitters, i.e. dopamine and norepinephrine, are an important biochemical correlate of catecholaminergic neuron loss in some disabling neurodegenerative diseases of the elderly, notably Parkinson's disease. In an oxidative stress setting, under conditions of elevated lipid peroxidation, iron accumulation, impaired mitochondrial functioning and antioxidant depletion, catecholamines are oxidatively converted to the corresponding o-quinones, which may initiate a cascade of spontaneous reactions, including intramolecular cyclization, aminoethyl side chain fission and interaction with molecular targets. The overall outcome of the competing pathways may vary depending on contingent factors and the biochemical environment, and may include formation of nitrated derivatives, neuromelanin deposition, generation of chain fission products, conjugation with L-cysteine leading eventually to cytotoxic responses and altered cellular function. In addition, catecholamines may interact with products of lipid peroxidation and other species derived from oxidative breakdown of biomolecules, notably glyoxal and other aldehydes, leading e.g. to tetrahydroisoquinolines via Pictet-Spengler chemistry. After a brief introductory remark on oxidative stress biochemistry, the bulk of this review will deal with an overview of the basic chemical pathways of catecholamine oxidation, with special emphasis on the analogies and differences between the central neurotransmitters dopamine and norepinephrine. This chemistry will form the basis for a concise discussion of the latest advances in the mechanisms of catecholamine-associated neurotoxicity in neuronal degeneration.

Keywords: Catecholamines; biological thiol conjugates; catecholamine neurotransmitters; isoquinolines; mitochondrial functioning; neuromelanin; neuronal degeneration; norepinephrine; o-quinones/quinonemethides; tetrahydroisoquinolines

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: April 1, 2011

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  • Current Medicinal Chemistry covers all the latest and outstanding developments in medicinal chemistry and rational drug design. Each issue contains a series of timely in-depth reviews written by leaders in the field covering a range of the current topics in medicinal chemistry. Current Medicinal Chemistry is an essential journal for every medicinal chemist who wishes to be kept informed and up-to-date with the latest and most important developments.

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