Dichloroacetate causes reversible demyelination in vitro: potential mechanism for its neuropathic effect


Address correspondence and reprint requests to Lucia Notterpek PhD, Department of Neuroscience, McKnight Brain Institute of the University of Florida, 100 Newell Drive, Box 100244, Gainesville, FL 32610–0244, USA. E-mail: notterp@mbi.ufl.edu


Dichloroacetate (DCA) is an investigational drug for genetic mitochondrial diseases whose use has been mitigated by reversible peripheral neuropathy. We investigated the mechanism of DCA neurotoxicity using cultured rat Schwann cells (SCs) and dorsal root ganglia (DRG) neurons. Myelinating SC-DRG neuron co-cultures, isolated SCs and DRG neurons were exposed to 1–20 mm DCA for up to 12 days. In myelinating co-cultures, DCA caused a dose- and exposure-dependent decrease of myelination, as determined by immunolabeling and immunoblotting for myelin basic protein (MBP), protein zero (P0), myelin-associated glycoprotein (MAG) and peripheral myelin protein 22 (PMP22). Partial recovery of myelination occurred following a 10-day washout of DCA. DCA did not affect the steady-state levels of intermediate filament proteins, but promoted the formation of anti-neurofilament antibody reactive whirls. In isolated SC cultures, DCA decreased the expression of P0 and PMP22, while it increased the levels of p75NTR (neurotrophin receptor), as compared with non-DCA-treated samples. DCA had modest adverse effects on neuronal and glial cell vitality, as determined by the release of lactate dehydrogenase. These results demonstrate that DCA induces a reversible inhibition of myelin-related proteins that may account, at least in part, for its clinical peripheral neuropathic effects.