Cellular and Molecular Mechanisms Underlying Perturbed Energy Metabolism and Neuronal Degeneration in Alzheimer's and Parkinson's Diseases


Address for correspondence: Laboratory of Neurosciences, National Institute on Aging, GRC 4FO1, 5600 Nathan Shock Drive, Baltimore, MD 21224. Phone: 410-558-8463; fax: 410-558-8465. e-mail: mmattson@grc.nia.nih.gov


ABSTRACT: Synaptic degeneration and death of nerve cells are defining features of Alzheimer's disease (AD) and Parkinson's disease (PD), the two most prevalent age-related neurodegenerative disorders. In AD, neurons in the hippocampus and basal forebrain (brain regions that subserve learning and memory functions) are selectively vulnerable. In PD dopamine-producing neurons in the substantia nigra-striatum (brain regions that control body movements) selectively degenerate. Studies of postmortem brain tissue from AD and PD patients have provided evidence for increased levels of oxidative stress, mitochondrial dysfunction and impaired glucose uptake in vulnerable neuronal populations. Studies of animal and cell culture models of AD and PD suggest that increased levels of oxidative stress (membrane lipid peroxidation, in particular) may disrupt neuronal energy metabolism and ion homeostasis, by impairing the function of membrane ion-motive ATPases and glucose and glutamate transporters. Such oxidative and metabolic compromise may thereby render neurons vulnerable to excitotoxicity and apoptosis. Studies of the pathogenic mechanisms of AD-linked mutations in amyloid precursor protein (APP) and presenilins strongly support central roles for perturbed cellular calcium homeostasis and aberrant proteolytic processing of APP as pivotal events that lead to metabolic compromise in neurons. Specific molecular “players” in the neurodegenerative processes in AD and PD are being identified and include Par-4 and caspases (bad guys) and neurotrophic factors and stress proteins (good guys). Interestingly, while studies continue to elucidate cellular and molecular events occurring in the brain in AD and PD, recent data suggest that both AD and PD can manifest systemic alterations in energy metabolism (e.g., increased insulin resistance and dysregulation of glucose metabolism). Emerging evidence that dietary restriction can forestall the development of AD and PD is consistent with a major “metabolic” component to these disorders, and provides optimism that these devastating brain disorders of aging may be largely preventable.