Neurotoxins: Free radical mechanisms and melatonin protection

Russel J. Reiter, Lucien C. Manchester, Dun Xian Tan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

161 Scopus citations


Toxins that pass through the blood-brain barrier put neurons and glia in peril. The damage inflicted is usually a consequence of the ability of these toxic agents to induce free radical generation within cells but especially at the level of the mitochondria. The elevated production of oxygen and nitrogen-based radicals and related non-radical products leads to the oxidation of essential macromolecules including lipids, proteins and DNA. The resultant damage is referred to as oxidative and nitrosative stress and, when the molecular destruction is sufficiently severe, it causes apoptosis or necrosis of neurons and glia. Loss of brain cells compromises the functions of the central nervous system expressed as motor, sensory and cognitive deficits and psychological alterations. In this survey we summarize the publications related to the following neurotoxins and the protective actions of melatonin: aminolevulinic acid, cyanide, domoic acid, kainic acid, metals, methamphetamine, polychlorinated biphenyls, rotenone, toluene and 6-hydroxydopamine. Given the potent direct free radical scavenging activities of melatonin and its metabolites, their ability to indirectly stimulate antioxidative enzymes and their efficacy in reducing electron leakage from mitochondria, it would be expected that these molecules would protect the brain from oxidative and nitrosative molecular mutilation. The studies summarized in this review indicate that this is indeed the case, an action that is obviously assisted by the fact that melatonin readily crosses the blood brain barrier.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)194-210
Number of pages17
JournalCurrent Neuropharmacology
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2010
Externally publishedYes


  • 6-hydroxydopamine
  • Aminolevulinic acid
  • Cyanide
  • Domoic acid
  • Kainic acid
  • Melatonin
  • Metals
  • Methamphetamine
  • Polychlorinated biphenyls
  • Rotenone
  • Toluene

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Neurology
  • Neurology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Pharmacology (medical)
  • Pharmacology


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