Protein adduct formation as a molecular mechanism in neurotoxicity

Richard M. LoPachin, Anthony P. DeCaprio

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

141 Scopus citations


Chemicals that cause nerve injury and neurological deficits are a structurally diverse group. For the majority, the corresponding molecular mechanisms of neurotoxicity are poorly understood. Many toxicants (e.g., hepatotoxicants) of other organ systems and/or their oxidative metabolites have been identified as electrophiles and will react with cellular proteins by covalently binding nucleophilic amino acid residues. Cellular toxicity occurs when adduct formation disrupts protein structure and/or function, which secondarily causes damage to submembrane organelles, metabolic pathways, or cytological processes. Since many neurotoxicants are also electrophiles, the corresponding pathophysiological mechanism might involve protein adduction. In this review, we will summarize the principles of covalent bond formation that govern reactions between xenobiotic electrophiles and biological nucleophiles. Because a neurotoxicant can form adducts with multiple nucleophilic residues on proteins, the challenge is to identify the mechanistically important adduct. In this regard, it is now recognized that despite widespread chemical adduction of tissue proteins, neurotoxicity can be mediated through binding of specific target nucleophiles in key neuronal proteins. Acrylamide and 2,5-hexanedione are prototypical neurotoxicants that presumably act through the formation of protein adducts. To illustrate both the promise and the difficulty of adduct research, these electrophilic chemicals will be discussed with respect to covalent bond formation, suspected protein sites of adduction, and proposed mechanisms of neurotoxicity. The goals of future investigations are to identify and quantify specific protein adducts that play a causal role in the generation of neurotoxicity induced by electrophilic neurotoxicants. This is a challenging but critical objective that will be facilitated by recent advances in proteomic methodologies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)214-225
Number of pages12
JournalToxicological Sciences
Issue number2
StatePublished - Aug 2005


  • 2,5-hexanedione
  • Acrylamide
  • Axonopathy
  • Electrophilic chemicals
  • Protein adduct
  • Toxic neuropathy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Toxicology


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