Neuromelanin in human dopamine neurons: comparison with peripheral melanins and relevance to Parkinson's disease

Prog Neurobiol. 2005 Feb;75(2):109-24. doi: 10.1016/j.pneurobio.2005.02.001.


Neuromelanin (NM) is a dark polymer pigment produced in specific populations of catecholaminergic neurons in the brain. It appears in greatest quantities in the human brain, in lesser amounts in some other non-human primates, but is absent from the brain in many lower species. Interest in this pigment has seen a resurgence in recent years because of a hypothesised link between neuromelanin and the especial vulnerability of neuromelanin-containing neurons to cell death in Parkinson's disease (PD). Little is known regarding the biology of neuromelanin. As neuromelanin appears to have characteristics in common with the better studied peripheral melanin pigments this review compares what is known about neuromelanin with melanins found in other body tissues. Unlike peripheral melanins, which are produced in specialised cells called melanocytes and may be transferred to other cell types, neuromelanin granules are believed to be stored in the cell in which they are produced. Neuromelanin granules display a unique, more heterogeneous appearance compared with peripheral melanins. Unlike melanin, neuromelanin is traditionally thought to result from a non-enzymatic synthesis pathway with no known pathway for neuromelanin catabolism. More recent data, however, is indicative of some regulation of neuromelanin synthesis and turnover. By analogy with peripheral melanins, neuromelanin may function in vivo to attenuate the effects of damaging stimuli. Among several possible mechanisms suggested, the ability of neuromelanin to interact with transition metals, especially iron, and to mediate intracellular oxidative mechanisms has received particular attention. Recent data from neuromelanin in the Parkinson's disease brain suggests that this proposed function may be compromised, thus rendering pigmented neurons vulnerable to oxidative damage in this disorder.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Brain / metabolism*
  • Dopamine / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Melanins / chemistry
  • Melanins / metabolism*
  • Neurons / metabolism*
  • Parkinson Disease / metabolism*


  • Melanins
  • neuromelanin
  • Dopamine