In Parkinson`s disease (PD) and its neurotoxin-induced models, 6-hydroxydopamine (6-OHDA) and N-methyl-4-phenyl-1,2,3,6-tetrahydropyridine (MPTP), significant accumulation of iron occurs in the substantia nigra pars compacta. The iron is thought to be in a labile pool, unbound to ferritin, and is thought to have a pivotal role to induce oxidative stress-dependent neurodegeneration of dopamine neurons via Fenton chemistry. The consequence of this is its interaction with H2O2 to generate the most reactive radical oxygen species, the hydroxyl radical. This scenario is supported by studies in both human and neurotoxin-induced parkinsonism showing that disposition of H2O2 is compromised via depletion of glutathione (GSH), the rate-limiting cofactor of glutathione peroxide, the major enzyme source to dispose H2O2 as water in the brain.
Further, radical scavengers have been shown to prevent the neurotoxic action of the above neurotoxins and depletion of GSH. However, our group was the first to demonstrate that the prototype iron chelator, desferal, is a potent neuroprotective agent in the 6-OHDA model. We have extended these studies and examined the neuroprotective effect of intracerebraventricular (ICV) pretreatment with the prototype iron chelator, desferal (1.3, 13, 134 mg), on ICV induced 6-OHDA (250 µg) lesion of striatal dopamine neurons. Desferal alone at the doses studied did not affect striatal tyrosine hydroxylase (TH) activity or dopamine (DA) metabolism. All three pretreatment (30 min) doses of desferal prevented the fall in striatal and frontal cortex DA, dihydroxyphenylacetic acid, and homovalinic acid, as well as the left and right striatum TH activity and DA turnover resulting from 6-OHDA lesion of dopaminergic neurons. A concentration bell-shaped neuroprotective effect of desferal was observed in the striatum, with 13 µg being the most effective.
Neither desferal nor 6-OHDA affected striatal serotonin, 5-hydroxyindole acetic acid, or noradrenaline. Desferal also protected against 6-OHDA-induced deficit in locomotor activity, rearing, and exploratory behavior (sniffing) in a novel environment. Since the lowest neuroprotective dose (1.3 µg) of desferal was 200 times less than 6-OHDA, its neuroprotective activity may not be attributed to interference with the neurotoxin activity, but rather iron chelation. These studies led us to develop novel brain-permeable iron chelators, the VK-28 series, with iron chelating and neuroprotective activity similar to desferal for ironing iron out from PD and other neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer's disease, Friedreich's ataxia, and Huntington`s disease.