Niacin metabolism and Parkinson’s disease


Epidemiological surveys suggest an important role for niacin in the causes of Parkinson’s disease, in that niacin deficiency, the nutritional condition that causes pellagra, appears to protect against Parkinson’s disease. Absorbed niacin is used in the synthesis of nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD) in the body, and in the metabolic process NAD releases nicotinamide by poly(ADP-ribosyl)ation, the activation of which has been reported to mediate 1-methyl-4-phenyl-1,2,3,6-tetrahydropyridine-induced Parkinson’s disease. Recently nicotinamide N-methyltransferase (EC2.1.1.1) activity has been discovered in the human brain, and the released nicotinamide may be methylated to 1-methylnicotinamide (MNA), via this enzyme, in the brain. A deficiency in mitochondrial NADH: ubiquinone oxidoreductase (complex 1) activity is believed to be a critical factor in the development of Parkinson’s disease. MNA has been found to destroy several subunits of cerebral complex 1, leading to the suggestion that MNA is concerned in the pathogenesis of Parkinson’s disease. Based on these findings, it is hypothesized that niacin is a causal substance in the development of Parkinson’s disease through the following processes: NAD produced from niacin releases nicotinamide via poly(ADP-ribosyl)ation, activated by the hydroxyl radical. Released excess nicotinamide is methylated to MNA in the cytoplasm, and superoxides formed by MNA via complex I destroy complex 1 subunits directly, or indirectly via mitochondrial DNA damage. Hereditary or environmental factors may cause acceleration of this cycle, resulting in neuronal death.

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Fukushima, T. Niacin metabolism and Parkinson’s disease. Environ Health Prev Med 10, 3–8 (2005).

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Key words

  • nicotinamide N-methyltransferase
  • 1-methylnicotinamide
  • poly(ADP-ribosyl)ation
  • mitochondria
  • complex I