Administration of 1-methyl-4-phenyl-1,2,3,6-tetrahydropyridine (MPTP) to mice and nonhuman primates causes a parkinsonian disorder characterized by a loss of dopamine-producing neurons in the substantia nigra and corresponding motor deficits. MPTP has been proposed to exert its neurotoxic effects through a variety of mechanisms, including inhibition of complex I of the mitochondrial respiratory chain, displacement of dopamine from vesicular stores, and formation of reactive oxygen species from mitochondrial or cytosolic sources. However, the mechanism of MPTP-induced neurotoxicity is still a matter of debate. Recently, we reported that the yeast single-subunit nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (reduced) dehydrogenase (NDI1) is resistant to rotenone, a complex I inhibitor that produces a parkinsonian syndrome in rats, and that overexpression of NDI1 in SK-N-MC cells prevents the toxicity of rotenone. In this study, we used viral-mediated overexpression of NDI1 in SK-N-MC cells and animals to determine the relative contribution of complex I inhibition in the toxicity of MPTP. In cell culture, NDI1 overexpression abolished the toxicity of 1-methyl-4-phenylpyridinium, the active metabolite of MPTP. Overexpression of NDI1 through stereotactic administration of a viral vector harboring the NDI1 gene into the substantia nigra protected mice from both the neurochemical and behavioral deficits elicited by MPTP. These data identify inhibition of complex I as a requirement for dopaminergic neurodegeneration and subsequent behavioral deficits produced by MPTP. Furthermore, combined with reports of a complex I defect in Parkinson's disease (PD) patients, the present study affirms the utility of MPTP in understanding the molecular mechanisms underlying dopaminergic neurodegeneration in PD.
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