Oral N-acetyl-cysteine attenuates loss of dopaminergic terminals in alpha-synuclein overexpressing mice

PLoS One. 2010 Aug 23;5(8):e12333. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0012333.


Levels of glutathione are lower in the substantia nigra (SN) early in Parkinson's disease (PD) and this may contribute to mitochondrial dysfunction and oxidative stress. Oxidative stress may increase the accumulation of toxic forms of alpha-synuclein (SNCA). We hypothesized that supplementation with n-acetylcysteine (NAC), a source of cysteine--the limiting amino acid in glutathione synthesis, would protect against alpha-synuclein toxicity. Transgenic mice overexpressing wild-type human alpha-synuclein drank water supplemented with NAC or control water supplemented with alanine from ages 6 weeks to 1 year. NAC increased SN levels of glutathione within 5-7 weeks of treatment; however, this increase was not sustained at 1 year. Despite the transient nature of the impact of NAC on brain glutathione, the loss of dopaminergic terminals at 1 year associated with SNCA overexpression was significantly attenuated by NAC supplementation, as measured by immunoreactivity for tyrosine hydroxylase in the striatum (p = 0.007; unpaired, two-tailed t-test), with a similar but nonsignificant trend for dopamine transporter (DAT) immunoreactivity. NAC significantly decreased the levels of human SNCA in the brains of PDGFb-SNCA transgenic mice compared to alanine treated transgenics. This was associated with a decrease in nuclear NFkappaB localization and an increase in cytoplasmic localization of NFkappaB in the NAC-treated transgenics. Overall, these results indicate that oral NAC supplementation decreases SNCA levels in brain and partially protects against loss of dopaminergic terminals associated with overexpression of alpha-synuclein in this model.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acetylcysteine / administration & dosage*
  • Acetylcysteine / pharmacology*
  • Administration, Oral
  • Animals
  • Cytosol / drug effects
  • Cytosol / metabolism
  • Dietary Supplements
  • Dopamine / metabolism*
  • Gene Expression
  • Glutathione / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Transgenic
  • Motor Activity / drug effects
  • Motor Activity / physiology
  • NF-kappa B / metabolism
  • Neostriatum / drug effects*
  • Neostriatum / metabolism*
  • Neuroprotective Agents / administration & dosage
  • Neuroprotective Agents / pharmacology
  • Parkinson Disease / metabolism
  • Parkinson Disease / pathology
  • Parkinson Disease / physiopathology
  • Protein Transport / drug effects
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-sis / metabolism
  • Time Factors
  • Tyrosine 3-Monooxygenase / metabolism
  • alpha-Synuclein / genetics*


  • NF-kappa B
  • Neuroprotective Agents
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-sis
  • alpha-Synuclein
  • Tyrosine 3-Monooxygenase
  • Glutathione
  • Dopamine
  • Acetylcysteine