Iron-binding characteristics of neuromelanin of the human substantia nigra

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The vulnerability of the dopaminergic neurons of the substantia nigra (SN) in Parkinson's disease has been related to the presence of the pigment neuromelanin (NM) in these neurons. It is hypothesised that NM may act as an endogenous storage molecule for iron, an interaction suggested to influence free radical production. The current study quantified and characterised the interaction between NM and iron. Iron-binding studies demonstrated that both NM and synthetically-produced dopamine melanin contain equivalent numbers of high and low-affinity binding sites for iron but that the affinity of NM for iron is higher than that of synthetic melanin. Quantification of the total iron content in iron-loaded NM and synthetic melanin demonstrated that the iron-binding capacity of NM is 10-fold greater than that of the model melanin. This data was in agreement with the larger iron cluster size demonstrated by Mössbauer spectroscopy in the native pigment compared with the synthetic melanin. These findings are consistent with the hypothesis that NM may act as an endogenous iron-binding molecule in dopaminergic neurons of the SN in the human brain. The interaction between NM and iron has implications for disorders such as Parkinson's disease where an increase in iron in the SN is associated with increased indices of oxidative stress.

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