The interaction of aluminum with catecholamine-based neurotransmitters: can the formation of these species be considered a potential risk factor for neurodegenerative diseases?†
The potential neurotoxic role of Al(III) and its proposed link with the insurgence of Alzheimer's Disease (AD) have attracted increasing interest towards the determination of the nature of bioligands that are propitious to interact with aluminum. Among them, catecholamine-based neurotransmitters have been proposed to be sensitive to the presence of this non-essential metal ion in the brain. In the present work, we characterize several aluminum–catecholamine complexes in various stoichiometries, determining their structure and thermodynamics of formation. For this purpose, we apply a recently validated computational protocol with results that show a remarkably good agreement with the available experimental data. In particular, we employ Density Functional Theory (DFT) in conjunction with continuum solvation models to calculate complexation energies of aluminum for a set of four important catecholamines: L-DOPA, dopamine, noradrenaline and adrenaline. In addition, by means of the Quantum Theory of Atoms in Molecules (QTAIM) and Energy Decomposition Analysis (EDA) we assessed the nature of the Al–ligand interactions, finding mainly ionic bonds with an important degree of covalent character. Our results point at the possibility of the formation of aluminum–catecholamine complexes with favorable formation energies, even when proton/aluminum competition is taken into account. Indeed, we found that these catecholamines are better aluminum binders than catechol at physiological pH, because of the electron withdrawing effect of the positively-charged amine that decreases their deprotonation penalty with respect to catechol. However, overall, our results show that, in an open biological environment, the formation of Al–catecholamine complexes is not thermodynamically competitive when compared with the formation of other aluminum species in solution such as Al-hydroxide, or when considering other endogenous/exogenous Al(III) ligands such as citrate, deferiprone and EDTA. In summary, we rule out the possibility, suggested by some authors, that the formation of Al–catecholamine complexes in solution might be behind some of the toxic roles attributed to aluminum in the brain. An up-to-date view of the catecholamine biosynthesis pathway with sites of aluminum interference (according to the current literature) is presented. Alternative mechanisms that might explain the deleterious effects of this metal on the catecholamine route are thoroughly discussed, and new hypotheses that should be investigated in future are proposed.
- This article is part of the themed collection: Bioinspired reactivity and coordination chemistry