Novel neuroprotective mechanisms of pramipexole, an anti-Parkinson drug, against endogenous dopamine-mediated excitotoxicity

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Parkinson disease is characterized by selective degeneration of mesencephalic dopaminergic neurons, and endogenous dopamine may play a pivotal role in the degenerative processes. Using primary cultured mesencephalic neurons, we found that glutamate, an excitotoxin, caused selective dopaminergic neuronal death depending on endogenous dopamine content. Pramipexole, a dopamine D2/D3 receptor agonist used clinically in the treatment of Parkinson disease, did not affect glutamate-induced calcium influx but blocked dopaminergic neuronal death induced by glutamate. Pramipexole reduced dopamine content but did not change the levels of total or phosphorylated tyrosine hydroxylase, a rate-limiting enzyme in dopamine synthesis. The neuroprotective effect of pramipexole was independent of dopamine receptor stimulation because it was not abrogated by domperidone, a dopamine D2-type receptor antagonist. Moreover, both active S(−)- and inactive R(+)-enantiomers of pramipexole as a dopamine D2-like receptor agonist equally suppressed dopaminergic neuronal death. These results suggest that pramipexole protects dopaminergic neurons from glutamate neurotoxicity by the reduction of intracellular dopamine content, independently of dopamine D2-like receptor activation.

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