Iron and other metals in neuromelanin, substantia nigra, and putamen of human brain

J Neurochem. 1994 Mar;62(3):1097-101. doi: 10.1046/j.1471-4159.1994.62031097.x.


Radiochemical neutron activation analysis has been used to determine the concentration of 36 elements in neuromelanin, 22 elements in substantia nigra, and 32 elements in putamen of healthy subjects without signs of neurological disorders. Substantia nigra and putamen tissues were carefully dissected from the brain using special surgical instruments and tools as well as an adequate sampling procedure to avoid the risk of metal contamination during sampling. Neuromelanin was isolated from putamen by a multiple-step procedure (extraction with phosphate buffer, lipid and protein elimination by methanol extraction, and sodium dodecyl sulfate-proteinase). The isolated pigment as well as substantia nigra and putamen underwent neutron activation analysis involving irradiation in a high-neutron-flux reactor, radiochemical separations, and counting of the induced radionuclides by computer-based gamma-ray spectrometry. Iron was the element present in the highest concentration in all analyzed samples. The amount of iron was similar in substantia nigra and putamen (3,000 and 3,830 ng/mg wet weight, respectively) and 10 times higher in neuromelanin (30,800 ng/mg dry weight). Zinc was also present at high levels in three samples, ranging from 16.8 (substantia nigra) to 1,500 ng/mg (neuromelanin). Elements such as Zn, Cr, Se, Sr, Co, Sb, Ni, Hg, Ce, Au, Ag, Ta, and Sc were present in neuromelanin at much higher concentrations than in substantia nigra and putamen. These findings indicate that substantia nigra and putamen contain metals at higher concentrations than observed in blood and that neuromelanin has a particular affinity for metals.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Iron / metabolism*
  • Male
  • Melanins / metabolism*
  • Metals / metabolism*
  • Middle Aged
  • Neutron Activation Analysis
  • Osmolar Concentration
  • Putamen / metabolism*
  • Substantia Nigra / metabolism*


  • Melanins
  • Metals
  • neuromelanin
  • Iron