Severe and Regionally Widespread Increases in Tissue Urea in the Human Brain Represent a Novel Finding of Pathogenic Potential in Parkinson's Disease Dementia

Front Mol Neurosci. 2021 Oct 22:14:711396. doi: 10.3389/fnmol.2021.711396. eCollection 2021.


Widespread elevations in brain urea have, in recent years, been reported in certain types of age-related dementia, notably Alzheimer's disease (AD) and Huntington's disease (HD). Urea increases in these diseases are substantive, and approximate in magnitude to levels present in uraemic encephalopathy. In AD and HD, elevated urea levels are widespread, and not only in regions heavily affected by neurodegeneration. However, measurements of brain urea have not hitherto been reported in Parkinson's disease dementia (PDD), a condition which shares neuropathological and symptomatic overlap with both AD and HD. Here we report measurements of tissue urea from nine neuropathologically confirmed regions of the brain in PDD and post-mortem delay (PMD)-matched controls, in regions including the cerebellum, motor cortex (MCX), sensory cortex, hippocampus (HP), substantia nigra (SN), middle temporal gyrus (MTG), medulla oblongata (MED), cingulate gyrus, and pons, by applying ultra-high-performance liquid chromatography-tandem mass spectrometry (UHPLC-MS/MS). Urea concentrations were found to be substantively elevated in all nine regions, with average increases of 3-4-fold. Urea concentrations were remarkably consistent across regions in both cases and controls, with no clear distinction between regions heavily affected or less severely affected by neuronal loss in PDD. These urea elevations mirror those found in uraemic encephalopathy, where equivalent levels are generally considered to be pathogenic, and those previously reported in AD and HD. Increased urea is a widespread metabolic perturbation in brain metabolism common to PDD, AD, and HD, at levels equal to those seen in uremic encephalopathy. This presents a novel pathogenic mechanism in PDD, which is shared with two other neurodegenerative diseases.

Keywords: Alzheimer’s disease (AD); Huntington’s disease (HD); Parkinson’s disease dementia (PDD); mass spectrometry-LC-MS/MS; metabolomics (OMICS); urea-analysis.