An iron–dopamine index predicts risk of parkinsonian neurodegeneration in the substantia nigra pars compacta
The co-localization of iron and dopamine raises the risk of a potentially toxic reaction. Disturbance of the balance in this unique chemical environment makes neurons in the substantia nigra pars compacta (SNc) particularly vulnerable to parkinsonian neurodegeneration in the aging brain. In Parkinson's disease, these neurons degenerate coincident with an elevation in brain iron levels, yet relatively little is known about specific regional iron distribution with respect to dopamine. To directly appraise the iron–dopamine redox couple, we applied immuno-assisted laser ablation-inductively coupled plasma-mass spectrometry imaging to co-localize iron with the dopamine-producing enzyme tyrosine hydroxylase at the coronal level of the substantia nigra. We found that in the healthy brain the SNc does not contain the greatest concentration of iron within the midbrain, while the dopamine-rich environment in this region reflects an increased oxidative load. The product of iron and dopamine was significantly greater in the SNc than the adjacent ventral tegmental area, which is less susceptible to neuron loss in Parkinson's disease. Accordingly, this ‘risk factor’ was elevated further following 6-hydroxydopamine (6-OHDA) lesioning. Considering mounting evidence that brain iron increases with age, this measurable iron–dopamine index provides direct experimental evidence of a relationship between these two redox-active chemicals in degenerating dopaminergic neurons.