Dichloroacetate-induced peripheral neuropathy

Int Rev Neurobiol. 2019:145:211-238. doi: 10.1016/bs.irn.2019.05.003. Epub 2019 Jun 11.


Dichloroacetate (DCA) has been the focus of research by both environmental toxicologists and biomedical scientists for over 50 years. As a product of water chlorination and a metabolite of certain industrial chemicals, DCA is ubiquitous in our biosphere at low μg/kg body weight daily exposure levels without obvious adverse effects in humans. As an investigational drug for numerous congenital and acquired diseases, DCA is administered orally or parenterally, usually at doses of 10-50mg/kg per day. As a therapeutic, its principal mechanism of action is to inhibit pyruvate dehydrogenase kinase (PDK). In turn, PDK inhibits the key mitochondrial energy homeostat, pyruvate dehydrogenase complex (PDC), by reversible phosphorylation. By blocking PDK, DCA activates PDC and, consequently, the mitochondrial respiratory chain and ATP synthesis. A reversible sensory/motor peripheral neuropathy is the clinically limiting adverse effect of chronic DCA exposure and experimental data implicate the Schwann cell as a toxicological target. It has been postulated that stimulation of PDC and respiratory chain activity by DCA in normally glycolytic Schwann cells causes uncompensated oxidative stress from increased reactive oxygen species production. Additionally, the metabolism of DCA interferes with the catabolism of the amino acids phenylalanine and tyrosine and with heme synthesis, resulting in accumulation of reactive molecules capable of forming adducts with DNA and proteins and also resulting in oxidative stress. Preliminary evidence in rodent models of peripheral neuropathy suggest that DCA-induced neurotoxicity may be mitigated by naturally occurring antioxidants and by a specific class of muscarinic receptor antagonists. These findings generate a number of testable hypotheses regarding the etiology and treatment of DCA peripheral neuropathy.

Keywords: Anti-oxidants; Clinical trial; Dichloroacetate; Glutathione-S-transferase zeta 1; Metabolic disease; Mitochondria; Oxidative damage; Peripheral neuropathy; Tyrosine.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antioxidants / pharmacology
  • Dichloroacetic Acid / pharmacokinetics
  • Dichloroacetic Acid / pharmacology
  • Dichloroacetic Acid / therapeutic use
  • Dichloroacetic Acid / toxicity*
  • Humans
  • Muscarinic Antagonists / pharmacology
  • Peripheral Nervous System Diseases / chemically induced*
  • Peripheral Nervous System Diseases / prevention & control


  • Antioxidants
  • Muscarinic Antagonists
  • Dichloroacetic Acid