Monoamine oxidase (MAO) isoenzymes A and B are mitochondrial-bound proteins, catalyzing the oxidative deamination of monoamine neurotransmitters as well as xenobiotic amines. Although they derive from a common ancestral progenitor gene, are located at X-chromosome and display 70% structural identity, their substrate preference, regional distribution, and physiological role are divergent. In fact, while MAO-A has high affinity for serotonin and norepinephrine, MAO-B primarily serves the catabolism of 2-phenylethylamine (PEA) and contributes to the degradation of other trace amines and dopamine. Convergent lines of preclinical and clinical evidence indicate that variations in MAO enzymatic activity--due to either genetic or environmental factors--can exert a profound influence on behavioral regulation and play a role in the pathophysiology of a large spectrum of mental and neurodegenerative disorders, ranging from antisocial personality disorder to Parkinson's disease. Over the past few years, numerous advances have been made in our understanding of the phenotypical variations associated with genetic polymorphisms and mutations of the genes encoding for both isoenzymes. In particular, novel findings on the phenotypes of MAO-deficient mice are highlighting novel potential implications of both isoenzymes in a broad spectrum of mental disorders, ranging from autism and anxiety to impulse-control disorders and ADHD. These studies will lay the foundation for future research on the neurobiological and neurochemical bases of these pathological conditions, as well as the role of gene × environment interactions in the vulnerability to several mental disorders.
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