Catechol-O-methyltransferase decreases levodopa toxicity in vitro

D. Offen, H. Panet, R. Galili-Mosberg, E. Melamed*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The purpose of this study was to examine the effects of 3-O-methylation by catechol-O-methyltransferase (COMT) on the toxicity of levodopa in neuronal cultures. High concentrations of levodopa are toxic in vitro. Therefore, there is concern that long-term treatment with levodopa in patients with Parkinson's disease might accelerate the rate of degeneration of nigrostriatal neurons. However, recent studies have suggested that, while levodopa is harmful in vitro, it may not be toxic in vivo. A possible defense mechanism is by means of metabolic shunting of levodopa excess to 3-O-methyldopa by COMT in peripheral and central nervous system tissues. In this study we examine whether the use of COMT inhibitor, which reduced the levels of 3-O-methyldopa, affect levodopa toxicity. Mice cerebellar granule neurons, PC12, and neuroblastoma cells were used, and their viability following exposure to levodopa and COMT with and without tolcapone, a COMT inhibitor, was measured by neutral red staining. Auto-oxidation of levodopa was evaluated using a spectrophotometer (690 nm). We found that 3-O-methyldopa, unlike levodopa, was not toxic to all cells examined. Addition of purified COMT to levodopa prevented its auto-oxidation and markedly attenuated its cytotoxicity in vitro. Additional tolcapone reversed the protective effect of COMT. The agent 3-O-methyldopa is not toxic to cell cultures. Catechol-O-methyltransferase attenuates toxicity of levodopa in vitro by its metabolism to nontoxic 3-O-methyldopa.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)27-30
Number of pages4
JournalClinical Neuropharmacology
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2001


  • 3-O-methyldopa
  • Catechol-O-methyltransferase
  • Levodopa
  • Parkinson's disease
  • Tolcapone


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