Dolichol is the major lipid component of human substantia nigra neuromelanin
Neuromelanin is a dark brown pigment present at high concentrations in dopaminergic neurones of the human substantia nigra (SN). Early electron microscopic examinations of neuromelanin fine structure revealed a significant neutral lipid component; however, the identity of this lipid has remained unknown. Here we show that the lipid component of neuromelanin pigment derived from human SN is the polyisoprenoid dolichol. Established methods were used to isolate the pigment from the SN of 32 brains and the lipid fraction was recovered in high purity and yield. Using reversed-phase HPLC, atmospheric pressure chemical ionization mass spectrometry, and 1H- and 13C-NMR techniques, we showed that the neuromelanin dolichol contained 17–23 isoprenoid units. Dolichol accounted for 14% of the mass of neuromelanin pigment; low levels of other hydrophobic compounds were detected (e.g. ubiquinone-10, a-tocopherol and cholesterol together accounted for < 0.5% of the neuromelanin lipid mass). This is the first time that dolichol has been identified in such a physiological setting and significantly advances our understanding of neuromelanin pigment structure and biosynthetic pathways. Furthermore, these studies identify a potential novel role for the isoprenoid pathway in the regulation of neuromelanin function and neurodegeneration within the SN.