Mitochondrial mechanisms of neural cell death and neuroprotective interventions in Parkinson's disease

Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2003 Jun;991:111-9. doi: 10.1111/j.1749-6632.2003.tb07469.x.


Mitochondrial dysfunction, due to either environmental or genetic factors, can result in excessive production of reactive oxygen species, triggering the apoptotic death of dopaminergic cells in Parkinson's disease. Mitochondrial free radical production is promoted by the inhibition of electron transport at any point distal to the sites of superoxide production. Neurotoxins that induce parkinsonian neuropathology, such as MPP(+) and rotenone, stimulate superoxide production at complex I of the electron transport chain and also stimulate free radical production at proximal redox sites including mitochondrial matrix dehydrogenases. The oxidative stress caused by elevated mitochondrial production of reactive oxygen species promotes the expression and (or) intracellular distribution of the proapoptotic protein Bax to the mitochondrial outer membrane. Interactions between Bax and BH3 death domain proteins such as tBid result in Bax membrane integration, oligomerization, and permeabilization of the outer membrane to intermembrane proteins such as cytochrome c. Once released into the cytosol, cytochrome c together with other proteins activates the caspase cascade of protease activities that mediate the biochemical and morphological alterations characteristic of apoptosis. In addition, loss of mitochondrial cytochrome c stimulates mitochondrial free radical production, further promoting cell death pathways. Excessive mitochondrial Ca(2+) accumulation can also release cytochrome c and promote superoxide production through a mechanism distinctly different from that of Bax. Ca(2+) activates a mitochondrial inner membrane permeability transition causing osmotic swelling, rupture of the outer membrane, and complete loss of mitochondrial structural and functional integrity. While amphiphilic cations, such as dibucaine and propranolol, inhibit Bax-mediated cytochrome c release, transient receptor potential channel inhibitors inhibit mitochondrial swelling and cytochrome c release induced by the inner membrane permeability transition. These advances in the knowledge of mitochondrial cell death mechanisms and their inhibitors may lead to neuroprotective interventions applicable to Parkinsons's disease.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Apoptosis*
  • Cell Death
  • Humans
  • Mitochondria / drug effects
  • Mitochondria / pathology*
  • Necrosis
  • Neurons / pathology*
  • Neuroprotective Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Parkinson Disease / drug therapy*
  • Parkinson Disease / etiology
  • Parkinson Disease / pathology
  • Reactive Oxygen Species / metabolism


  • Neuroprotective Agents
  • Reactive Oxygen Species