Drugs of abuse that mediate advanced glycation end product formation: a chemical link to disease pathology

Acc Chem Res. 2009 May 19;42(5):659-69. doi: 10.1021/ar800247d.


Nicotine and methamphetamine are frequently abused in modern society, despite the increasing evidence of their addictive, neuropharmacological, and toxic effects. Tobacco, the most widely abused substance, is the leading cause of preventable death in the United States, killing nearly half a million Americans annually. A methamphetamine epidemic has also spread during the past decade; severe neurotoxicity and addictiveness contribute to the drug's notoriety. Although the majority of research on these two drugs is of pharmacological and neurobiological motivation, further study of these molecules from a chemical perspective may provide novel mechanistic insight into either their addictive potential or their pathological effects. For example, nicotine and methamphetamine share a common structural feature, a secondary amine, suggesting that these molecules could possess similar (or analogous) in vivo reactivity. Discoveries concerning the synthetic requirements for aqueous aldol catalysis and the feasibility of the enamine mechanism under physiological conditions have given rise to the hypothesis that ingested molecules, such as abused drugs, could participate in reactions utilizing an enamine intermediate in vivo. The chemical reactivity of exogenous drugs with amine functionalities was initially examined in the context of the Maillard reaction, or nonenzymatic browning. The heating of reducing sugars with amino acids yields a brown solution; studies of this reaction were originally applied to food chemistry for the production of distinct flavors and aromas. Further research has since revealed numerous instances in which the in vivo production of advanced glycation end products (AGEs) through the Maillard reaction contribute to the pathology of disease states. Specifically, the modification of long-lived proteins by glycation and glycoxidation and the accumulation of these AGEs compromise the original function of such proteins and change the mechanical properties of affected tissue. In this Account, we summarize our investigations into the capacity for exogenous compounds to initiate the Maillard reaction and the corresponding physiological and immunological impact of the drug-conjugated AGEs that form. Many of the pathological components of diabetes, atherosclerosis, cancer, macular degeneration, Alzheimer's disease, and even the normal aging process are attributable to AGEs and their potential for aggregate formation in the vasculature. A deeper understanding of AGEs, and particularly glycated proteins, will provide fundamental mechanistic insight into disease origins.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Alzheimer Disease / etiology
  • Alzheimer Disease / physiopathology
  • Atherosclerosis / etiology
  • Atherosclerosis / physiopathology
  • Diabetes Mellitus / etiology
  • Diabetes Mellitus / physiopathology
  • Disease*
  • Glycation End Products, Advanced / chemistry*
  • Glycation End Products, Advanced / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Macular Degeneration / etiology
  • Macular Degeneration / physiopathology
  • Methamphetamine / chemistry*
  • Methamphetamine / metabolism
  • Molecular Structure
  • Neoplasms / etiology
  • Neoplasms / physiopathology
  • Nicotine / analogs & derivatives
  • Nicotine / chemistry*
  • Nicotine / metabolism


  • Glycation End Products, Advanced
  • Methamphetamine
  • Nicotine
  • nornicotine