Diethyldithiocarbamate causes nigral cell loss and dopamine depletion with nontoxic doses of MPTP

Exp Neurol. 1999 Mar;156(1):62-70. doi: 10.1006/exnr.1998.6997.


Although nontoxic when administered alone, diethyldithiocarbamate (DDC) is known to enhance the dopamine-depleting effects of 1-methyl-4-phenyl-1,2,3,6-tetrahydropyridine (MPTP) in the mouse striatum. The purpose of the present study was twofold: (i) to carefully characterize the effects of DDC on MPTP-induced degeneration of dopaminergic neurons in substantia nigra pars compacta using unbiased, stereological cell counting techniques and (ii) to determine whether or not DDC can convert a nontoxic dose of MPTP into one which is clearly toxic on dopaminergic neurons in the substantia nigra. A single low dose of MPTP (15 mg/kg intraperitoneally (ip)) was used for these studies, which failed to induce any neurochemical or histological effects on the nigrostriatal system of C57BL/6 mice when administered alone. However, when animals were pretreated with DDC (400 mg/kg ip), the same dose of MPTP resulted in a 50% loss of neurons in the substantia nigra pars compacta, as well as a 70% reduction in striatal dopamine (DA). A 31% reduction of DA in the ventral mesencephalon was also seen. This combined regimen of DDC and MPTP was not significantly different from a maximally tolerated "toxic" dose of MPTP alone (15 mg/kg x 4, 1 h apart, ip). As expected, animals receiving DDC alone did not show any dopamine depletion nor nigral neuronal loss. The present study confirms previous work suggesting that DDC enhances MPTP-induced nigral cell loss and shows for the first time that DDC can "unmask" MPTP toxicity. These observations could have implications for theories on the cause of Parkinson's disease.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Catecholamines / metabolism
  • Ditiocarb / toxicity*
  • Dopamine / metabolism*
  • Dopamine Agents / toxicity*
  • Drug Synergism
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • MPTP Poisoning*
  • Male
  • Mesencephalon / drug effects
  • Mesencephalon / metabolism
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Neostriatum / drug effects
  • Neostriatum / metabolism
  • Substantia Nigra / drug effects*
  • Substantia Nigra / metabolism
  • Substantia Nigra / pathology
  • Tyrosine 3-Monooxygenase / metabolism


  • Catecholamines
  • Dopamine Agents
  • Ditiocarb
  • Tyrosine 3-Monooxygenase
  • Dopamine