Iron induces degeneration of nigrostriatal neurons

G. J. Sengstock, C. W. Olanow, A. J. Dunn, G. W. Arendash

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Parkinson's-diseased (PD) brains have been reported to contain increased quantities of iron within the zona compacta of the substantia nigra (SN). To test whether excess iron in the SN could cause a PD-like loss of dopaminergic neurons, various concentrations of iron were infused unilaterally within the SN of adult male rats. At 1-2 months post-infusion, examination of thionine and iron stained brain sections from animals infused with low concentration iron revealed: 1. (1) iron diffusion limited to and concentrated within the infused SN 2. (2) a selective degeneration of neurons within zona compacta of SN. Infusion of higher iron concentrations induced near complete neuronal losses in zona compacta, as well as neuronal degeneration within zona reticularis and areas immediately adjacent to the SN. Striatal dopamine and its catabolites dihydroxyphenylacetic acid (DOPAC) and homovanillic acid (HVA) were reduced in a dose-dependent fashion, with over 80% depletions observed at the highest iron concentration infused. These data indicated that neurons within zona compacta of SN are sensitive to infusions of low iron concentrations. The data support the notion that iron in zona compacta of the SN could act as an endotoxin in the pathogenesis of PD.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)645-649
Number of pages5
JournalBrain Research Bulletin
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 1992
Externally publishedYes


  • Dopamine
  • Iron infusion
  • Parkinson's Disease
  • Substantia nigra


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