Artwork for podcast Chemistry Connections
Chemistry of Drug Induced Parkinsons
Episode 2017th June 2021 • Chemistry Connections • Hopewell Valley Student Publication Network
00:00:00 00:05:59

Share Episode


Chemistry Connections

Episode #20  

Welcome to Chemistry Connections, my name is Mari Kwak and I am your host for episode #20 called Drug induced Parkinson’s. Today I will be discussing how poorly made “synthetic Heroin” can induce symptoms of Parkinson’s disease in users within one use.

Segment 1: Introduction to Synthetic Heroin and Parkinson’s Disease

  • Parkinson’s disease is a genetically inherited disorder of the central nervous system, which affects body movement. Over the past 8 or so years, outbreaks of induced parkinson's have been found in California, Maryland, Vancouver, and British Columbia. 
  • This synthetic heroin powder containing MPTP is usually either dissolved in water and injected into the bloodstream or snorted.
  • Unlike other effects of drugs which take consistent usage over a period of time, this new synthetic drug has caused irreversible symptoms of Parkinson’s within the first use. 
  • Some symptoms of induced Parkinson’s observed in patients are difficulty moving, rigidity, resting tremor, flexed posture, and loss of postural reflexes.
  • The heroin powder itself, otherwise known as MPPP, does not cause Parkinson's, it's the MPTP that is a byproduct of synthetic heroin that causes Parkinson's-like symptoms. 
  • This background info comes from a CDC article with data from The National Institute on Drug Abuse and the National Institute of Mental Health.  

Chemistry time:

  • The chemical compound N-methyl-4-phenyl-1, 2, 3, 6-tetrahydropyridine, MPTP, is the accidental byproduct of MPPP, a synthetic opium drug. 
  • MPTP itself is not toxic, but when it oxidizes into MPP+ after it breaks the skin barrier, it becomes toxic. 
  • The MAO-B enzyme contained in astrocytes and serotonergic neurons reacts with MPTP in a redox reaction. MAO-B acts as a catalyst, to help facilitate the oxidation reaction of MPTP. First, MPTP is oxidized, by losing an electron, to become the chemical MPDP+. From there, more MAO-B oxidizes MPDP+ into MPP+, by losing another election. The final product, MPP+, is the toxic chemical found to induce Parkinson's. 
  • Why is MPP+ so toxic, you may be wondering? Well… I personally do not know but science considers
  • MPP+ is considered toxic because it kills dopamine-producing neurons, which have a high affinity for MPP+. → meaning that MPP+ and dopamine-producing neurons are attracted to each other.
  • Since they have a high affinity, the dopamine transmitter (DAT) takes MPP+ up to DA neutrons, where MPP+ uses its neurotoxicity to interrupt the complex I respiratory chain. The complex I respiratory chain is responsible for catalysing the electron transfer between coenzymes, which are essential for cells to function normally. 
  • Catalysts, like the complex I respiratory chain, increase the rate of reactions, by lowering the activation energy of the reaction. Since the complex I respiratory chain is interrupted, the electron transfers between two essential coenzymes will happen at too slow a rate for these cells to continue functioning. 
  • When these dopamine-producing neurons cannot function properly, they cause disorders like Parkinson’s
  •  In one autopsy of a drug user, MPTP appears to have destroyed the substantia nigra’s nerve cells located in the center bottom of the brain.
  • The pathway from the substantia nigra to signal the rest of the brain is made up of dopamine using neurons, which are severely damaged by MPP+. 
  • The substantia nigra controls body movement and control so, the destruction of substantia nigra’s nerve cells from MPP+ causes the patient to lose body control and struggle with body movement.  
  • Defects in this area of the brain are seen in both Parkinson’s patients and drug users who ingested MPTP.  
  • The chemical reaction that destroys nerve cells after MPTP is ingested with synthetic heroin, is responsible for inducing Parkinson's-like symptoms in drug users. 

Segment 3: Personal Connections 

My old coach was trafficking drugs, including heroin, across the country with her son, and I was always wondering how underground chemists, AKA illegal drug makers, make large batches of drugs without lots of failures. It turns out that they do.

  • I found it interesting to learn about different byproducts that are accidentally created in the formation of different drugs
  •  It's also interesting that medication/drugs can inadvertently mimic a genetic disorder that has no cure or solution. 
  • Although MPTP is not good, it could help chemists and pharma personal understand Parkinson’s disease better
  • Potentially lead to a cure or further preventative measures to stop symptoms before they develop.   

Thank you for listening to this episode of Chemistry Connections. For more student-ran podcasts and digital content, make sure that you visit


List your sources here. Make sure they are linked. Wikipedia cannot count for more than 50% of your sources.,content%2C%20as%20observed%20in%20rodents. 

Music Credits

Warm Nights by @LakeyInspired




More from YouTube