The herbicide paraquat (PQ) has increasingly been reported in epidemiological studies to enhance the risk of developing Parkinson's disease (PD). Furthermore, case-control studies report that individuals with genetic variants in the dopamine transporter (DAT, SLC6A) have a higher PD risk when exposed to PQ. However, it remains a topic of debate whether PQ can enter dopamine (DA) neurons through DAT. We report here a mechanism by which PQ is transported by DAT: In its native divalent cation state, PQ(2+) is not a substrate for DAT; however, when converted to the monovalent cation PQ(+) by either a reducing agent or NADPH oxidase on microglia, it becomes a substrate for DAT and is accumulated in DA neurons, where it induces oxidative stress and cytotoxicity. Impaired DAT function in cultured cells and mutant mice significantly attenuated neurotoxicity induced by PQ(+). In addition to DAT, PQ(+) is also a substrate for the organic cation transporter 3 (Oct3, Slc22a3), which is abundantly expressed in non-DA cells in the nigrostriatal regions. In mice with Oct3 deficiency, enhanced striatal damage was detected after PQ treatment. This increased sensitivity likely results from reduced buffering capacity by non-DA cells, leading to more PQ(+) being available for uptake by DA neurons. This study provides a mechanism by which DAT and Oct3 modulate nigrostriatal damage induced by PQ(2+)/PQ(+) redox cycling.
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