Para-methoxymethamphetamine (PMMA) is a para-ring-substituted amphetamine derivative sold worldwide as an illegal psychotropic drug. Although PMMA use has been reported to lead to severe intoxication and even death, little is known about the mechanism(s) by which PMMA exerts its neurotoxic effects. Here we found that PMMA treatment resulted in phosphorylation of protein kinase Cδ (PKCδ) and subsequent mitochondrial translocation of cleaved PKCδ. PMMA-induced oxidative stress was more pronounced in mitochondria than in the cytosol. Moreover, treatment with PMMA consistently resulted in significant reductions in mitochondrial membrane potential, mitochondrial complex I activity, and mitochondrial Mn superoxide dismutase-immunoreactivity. In contrast, PMMA treatment led to a significant increase in intramitochondrial Ca2+ level. Treatment with PMMA also significantly increased ionized calcium binding adaptor molecule 1 (Iba-1)-labeled microglial activation and upregulated tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF-α) gene expression. PKCδ knockout attenuated these mitochondrial effects and dampened the neurotoxic effects of PMMA. Importantly, TNF-α knockout mice were significantly protected from PMMA-induced increases in phospho-PKCδ expression, mitochondrial translocation of cleaved PKCδ, and Iba-1-labeled microgliosis. Both rottlerin, a pharmacological inhibitor of PKCδ, and etanercept, a pharmacological inhibitor of TNF-α, significantly protected against PMMA-mediated induction of apoptosis, as assessed by terminal deoxynucleotidyl transferase dUDP nick end labeling (TUNEL) assays. In addition, PKCδ knockout and TNF-α knockout both resulted in decreased PMMA-mediated induction of dopaminergic loss. Therefore, our results suggest that PKCδ mediates PMMA-induced neurotoxicity by facilitating oxidative stress (mitochondria > cytosol), mitochondrial dysfunction, microglial activation, and pro-apoptotic signaling. Our results also indicate that PMMA-induced PKCδ activation requires the proinflammatory cytokine TNF-α.
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