Mechanisms of ascorbic acid stimulation of norepinephrine synthesis in neuronal cells

Biochem Biophys Res Commun. 2012 Sep 14;426(1):148-52. doi: 10.1016/j.bbrc.2012.08.054. Epub 2012 Aug 19.


Ascorbic acid is well known to acutely stimulate norepinephrine synthesis in neurosecretory cells, but it has also been shown over several days to increase tyrosine hydroxylase mRNA and norepinephrine synthesis in cultured neurons. Since tyrosine hydroxylase is the rate-limiting step in catecholamine synthesis, an effect of ascorbate to increase tyrosine hydroxylase protein could contribute to its ability to increase or sustain catecholamine synthesis. Therefore, we evaluated whether tyrosine hydroxylase protein expression and function is increased in SH-SY5Y neuroblastoma cells by physiologically relevant intracellular ascorbate concentrations. SH-SY5Y neuroblastoma cells did not contain ascorbate and had only very low levels of norepinephrine in culture with L-tyrosine, the substrate for tyrosine hydroxylase. However, treatment of cells with ascorbate for 6 h or more markedly increased norepinephrine synthesis, such that intracellular ascorbate and norepinephrine increased in parallel with half maximal intracellular concentrations of about 1 mM ascorbate and 150 μM norepinephrine. This increase was enhanced by supplementing tetrahydrobiopterin, but was not mimicked by several antioxidants or by catalase or superoxide dismutase. Tyrosine hydroxylase protein expression increased at intracellular ascorbate concentrations above 1.5 mM. This contributed to norepinephrine generation, which was decreased 50-60% by inhibition of protein synthesis with cycloheximide at high intracellular ascorbate. These results suggest that expected physiologic neuronal ascorbate concentrations enhance norepinephrine synthesis both by maintaining tetrahydrobiopterin and increasing tyrosine hydroxylase expression.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Antioxidants / pharmacology*
  • Ascorbic Acid / pharmacology*
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Humans
  • Neurons / drug effects*
  • Neurons / enzymology
  • Norepinephrine / biosynthesis*
  • Tyrosine 3-Monooxygenase / biosynthesis*


  • Antioxidants
  • Tyrosine 3-Monooxygenase
  • Ascorbic Acid
  • Norepinephrine