Increased oxidative damage and decreased antioxidant function in aging human substantia nigra compared to striatum: implications for Parkinson's disease

Neurochem Res. 2012 Feb;37(2):358-69. doi: 10.1007/s11064-011-0619-7. Epub 2011 Oct 5.


Parkinson's disease (PD) is characterized by selective degeneration and loss of dopaminergic neurons in the substantia nigra (SN) of the ventral mid brain leading to dopamine depletion in the striatum. Oxidative stress and mitochondrial damage have been implicated in the death of SN neurons during the evolution of PD. In our previous study on human PD brains, we observed that compared to SN, striatum was significantly protected against oxidative damage and mitochondrial dysfunction. To understand whether brain aging contributes to the vulnerability of midbrain to neurodegeneration in PD compared to striatum, we assessed the status of oxidant and antioxidant markers, glutathione metabolic enzymes, glial fibrillary acidic protein (GFAP) expression and mitochondrial complex I(CI) activity in SN (n = 23) and caudate nucleus (n = 24) during physiological aging in human brains. We observed a significant increase in protein oxidation (P < 0.001), loss of CI activity (P = 0.04) and increased astrocytic proliferation indicated by GFAP expression (P < 0.001) in SN compared to CD with increasing age. These changes were attributed to significant decrease in antioxidant function represented by superoxide dismutase (SOD) (P = 0.03), glutathione (GSH) peroxidase (GPx) (P = 0.02) and GSH reductase (GR) (P = 0.03) and a decreasing trend in total GSH and catalase with increasing age. However, these parameters were relatively unaltered in CD. We propose that SN undergoes extensive oxidative damage, loss of antioxidant and mitochondrial function and increased GFAP expression during physiological aging which might make it more vulnerable to neurotoxic insults thus contributing to selective degeneration during evolution of PD.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Antioxidants / metabolism*
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Female
  • Glial Fibrillary Acidic Protein / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Oxidative Stress*
  • Parkinson Disease / metabolism*
  • Substantia Nigra / metabolism*
  • Young Adult


  • Antioxidants
  • Glial Fibrillary Acidic Protein