Does neuromelanin contribute to the vulnerability of catecholaminergic neurons in monkeys intoxicated with MPTP?

M T Herrero, E C Hirsch, A Kastner, M Ruberg, M R Luquin, J Laguna, F Javoy-Agid, J A Obeso, Y Agid
Neuroscience 1993, 56 (2): 499-511
The question has been raised as to whether neuromelanin, a by-product of catecholamine metabolism which accumulates during aging in primate midbrain neurons, contributes to the selective vulnerability of subgroups of dopaminergic neurons in Parkinson's disease. 1-Methyl-4-phenylpyridinium (MPP+) a metabolite of 1-methyl, 4-phenyl, 1,2,3,6-tetrahydropyridine (MPTP) is toxic to dopaminergic neurons, particularly in primates, producing a motor syndrome similar to that observed in Parkinson's disease. To test whether this neurotoxin preferentially affects melanized neurons, the survival of melanized and non-melanized catecholaminergic neurons was analysed after MPTP intoxication in the midbrain of the cynomolgus monkey (Macaca fascicularis). Experiments were performed on six animals chronically treated with MPTP (two were severely disabled, four moderately affected) and two age-matched control monkeys. Two populations of neurons were examined on regularly spaced sections throughout the midbrain: catecholaminergic neurons, identified by tyrosine hydroxylase immunohistochemistry and neuromelanin-containing neurons, visualized by Masson's method. The total number of neurons of each type was estimated in the different midbrain catecholaminergic cell groups using computer assisted image analysis. In the midbrains of control animals not all catecholaminergic neurons contained neuromelanin. The percentage of melanized neurons compared to the total population of tyrosine hydroxylase-positive neurons was high in the substantia nigra pars compacta (81.5%) and in the locus coeruleus (98%), intermediate in the substantia nigra pars lateralis (70%), in the catecholaminergic cell group A8 (50%), and in the ventral tegmental area (41.5%) and almost nil in the central gray substance. In MPTP-treated monkeys, the severity of the loss of catecholaminergic neurons was variable within the different midbrain cell groups, though of similar intensity in severely and mildly disabled monkeys. A relationship was found between the loss of dopaminergic neurons in the different mesencephalic cell groups of MPTP-intoxicated animals and the percentage of melanized neurons they normally contain (r = 0.98; P = 0.04). The percentage loss of catecholaminergic neurons in the locus coeruleus, the only noradrenergic cell group studied, was lower than expected from the correlation curve obtained for dopaminergic cell groups. Altogether, these findings indicate: (i) that dopaminergic neurons are more vulnerable to MPTP-toxicity than noradrenergic neurons; and (ii) that among dopaminergic neurons, those containing neuromelanin are more susceptible, indicating a possible role of neuromelanin in MPTP-toxicity.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 400 WORDS)

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