, Volume 9, Issue 1-3, pp 149-161

Substantia nigra degeneration and tyrosine hydroxylase depletion caused by excess S-adenosylmethionine in the rat brain

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Abstract

The major symptoms of Parkinson's disease (PD) are tremors, hypokinesia, rigidity, and abnormal posture, caused by degeneration of dopamine (DA) neurons in the substantia nigra (SN) and deficiency of DA in the neostriatal dopaminergic terminals. Norepinephrine, serotonin, and melanin pigments are also decreased and cholinergic activity is increased. The cause of PD is unknown. Increased methylation reactions may play a role in the etiology of PD, because it has been observed recently that the CNS administration of S-adenosyl-l-methionine (SAM), the methyl donor, caused tremors, hypokinesia, and rigidity; symptoms that resemble those that occur in PD. Furthermore, many of the biochemical changes seen in PD resemble changes that could occur if SAM-dependent methylation reactions are increased in the brain, and interestingly,l-DOPA, the most effective drug used to treat PD, reacts avidly with SAM. So methylation may be important in PD; an idea that is of particular interest because methylation reactions increase in aging, the symptoms of PD are strikingly similar to the neurological and functional changes seen in advanced aging, and PD is age-related. For methylation to be regarded as important in PD it means that, along with its biochemical reactions and behavioral effects, increased methylation should also cause specific neuronal degeneration. To know this, the effects of an increase in methylation in the brain were studied by injecting SAM into the lateral ventricle of rats. The injection of SAM caused neuronal degeneration, noted by a loss of neurons, gliosis, and increased silver reactive fibers in the SN. The degeneration was accompanied with a decrease in SN tyrosine hydroxylase (TH) immunoreactivity, and degeneration of TH-containing fibers. At the injection site in the lateral ventricle it appears that SAM caused a weakening or dissolution of the intercellular substances; observed as a disruption of the ependymal cell layer and the adjacent caudate tissues. SAM may also cause brain atrophy; evidenced by the dilation of the cerebral ventricle. Most of the SAM-induced anatomical changes that were observed in the rat model are similar to the changes that occur in PD, which further support a role of SAM-dependent increased methylation in PD.