Salsolinol — An endogenous neurotoxin in the biology of alcoholism

  • Frank Musshoff
Conference paper


Similarities between alcoholism and morphinism concerning the development of an addiction and symptoms of withdrawal led to the hypothesis that opiate-active compounds might be formed endogenously during the establishment of alcohol addiction. This theory was supported by the proof of the in vivo formation of simple tetrahydroisoquinoline alkaloids like salsolinol via Pictet-Spengler reaction from dopamine and the ethanol oxidation product acetaldehyde in the human body. Salsolinol was demonstrated to have a variety of neuropharmacological and cytotoxic effects and shows an affinity to the dopamine receptors. Definite evidence for a salsolinol formation in elevated concentrations after alcohol abuse is still lacking. In systematic regional studies using human brains we found significant amounts of salsolinol in the dopaminergic system, which is responsible for addiction processes. The possibility that biosynthesis of salsolinol occurs through a stereospecific enzymatic reaction was considered and both salsolinol enantiomers were found in human brain samples with no correlations between levels of salsolinol and dopamine. These findings do not support the hypothesis that only an enantio-selective synthesis of (R)-salsolinol by a putative salsolinol synthase is responsible for the in vivo formation.


Tyrosine Hydroxylase Pyruvic Acid Enantiomeric Composition POMC mRNA Isoquinoline Derivative 
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© Steinkopff Verlag Darmstadt 2001

Authors and Affiliations

  • Frank Musshoff
    • 1
  1. 1.Institute of Legal MedicineRheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms-UniversityBonnGermany

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