Sunday, August 19, 2007

Synaptic Cysteine Sulfhydryl Groups as Targets of Electrophilic Neurotoxicants

ToxSci Advance Access originally published online on July 31, 2006
Toxicological Sciences 2006 94(2):240-255; doi:10.1093/toxsci/kfl066
© The Author 2006. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Society of Toxicology. All rights reserved. For Permissions, please email:

Synaptic Cysteine Sulfhydryl Groups as Targets of Electrophilic Neurotoxicants

Richard M. LoPachin*,1 and David S. Barber
* Department of Anesthesiology, Montefiore Medical Center, Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Bronx, New York 10467-2490 Center for Environmental and Human Toxicology, University of Florida, Gainesville, Florida 32611-0885
Received May 17, 2006; accepted June 26, 2006

Many structurally diverse chemicals (e.g., acrylamide, 2,4-dithiobiuret, methylmercury) are electrophiles and cause synaptic dysfunction by unknown mechanisms. The purpose of this Forum review is to discuss the possibility that highly nucleophilic cysteine thiolate groups within catalytic triads of synaptic proteins represent specific and necessary targets for electrophilic neurotoxicants. Most of these toxicants share the ability to adduct or otherwise modify nucleophilic sulfhydryl groups. It is also now recognized that synaptic activity is regulated by the redox state of certain cysteine sulfhydryl groups on proteins. Electrophilic neurotoxicants might, therefore, produce synaptic toxicity by modifying these thiols. Because most proteins contain cysteine residues, target specificity is an issue that significantly detracts from the mechanistic validity of this hypothesis. However, recent research indicates that these thiolates are receptors for the endogenous nitric oxide (NO) pathway and that subsequent reversible S-nitrosylation finely regulates a broad spectrum of synaptic activities. We hypothesize that electrophilic neurotoxicants selectively adduct/derivatize NO-receptor thiolates in catalytic triads and that the resulting loss of fine gain control impairs neurotransmission and produces neurotoxicity. This proposal has mechanistic implications for a large class of electrophilic chemicals used in the agricultural and industrial sectors. In addition, research based on this hypothesis could provide mechanistic insight into neurodegenerative conditions such as Parkinsonism and Alzheimer's disease that presumably involve endogenous production of neurotoxic electrophiles (e.g., acrolein, 4-hydroxy-2-nonenal). The proposed mechanism of electrophilic neurotoxicants represents a new and exciting experimental framework for mechanistic research in human neuropathological conditions associated with toxicant exposure or disease-based processes.

Key Words: neurotoxicity; nitric oxide; toxic neuropathy; protein adduct; redox signaling; S-nitrosylation.

Blog Archive