Substantia nigra neuromelanin: structure, synthesis, and molecular behaviour

Mol Pathol. 2001 Dec;54(6):414-8.


The pigmented neurones of the substantia nigra are typically lost in Parkinson's disease; however, the possible relation between neuronal vulnerability and the presence of neuromelanin has not been elucidated. Early histological studies revealed the presence of increasing amounts of neuromelanin in the substantia nigra with aging in higher mammals, showed that the neuromelanin granules are surrounded by a membrane, and comparatively evaluated the pigmentation of the substantia nigra in different animal species. Histochemical studies showed the association of neuromelanin with lipofuscins. However, systematic investigations of the structure, synthesis, and molecular interactions of neuromelanin have been undertaken only during the past decade. In these later studies, neuromelanin was identified as a genuine melanin with a strong chelating ability for iron and an affinity for compounds such as lipids, pesticides, and MPP(+). The affinity of neuromelanin for a variety of inorganic and organic toxins is consistent with a postulated protective function for neuromelanin. Moreover, the neuronal accumulation of neuromelanin during aging and the link between its synthesis and a high cytosolic concentration of catechols suggest a protective role. However, its putative neuroprotective effects could be quenched in conditions of toxin overload.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aging / physiology
  • Animals
  • Cell Death
  • Chelating Agents / metabolism
  • Cholesterol / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Iron / metabolism
  • Lipid Metabolism
  • Locus Coeruleus / metabolism
  • Locus Coeruleus / pathology
  • Melanins / chemistry
  • Melanins / physiology*
  • Paraquat / metabolism
  • Parkinson Disease / metabolism*
  • Parkinson Disease / pathology
  • Pesticides / metabolism
  • Substantia Nigra / metabolism*
  • Substantia Nigra / pathology
  • Toxins, Biological / metabolism


  • Chelating Agents
  • Melanins
  • Pesticides
  • Toxins, Biological
  • neuromelanin
  • Cholesterol
  • Iron
  • Paraquat