Beta-N-methylamino-L-alanine neurotoxicity: requirement for bicarbonate as a cofactor

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Science  19 Aug 1988:
Vol. 241, Issue 4868, pp. 973-975
DOI: 10.1126/science.3136549


Ingestion of the excitotoxic cycad seed amino acid beta-N-methylamino-L-alanine may be responsible for the neuronal degeneration associated with Guam amyotrophic lateral sclerosis-parkinsonism-dementia in man. However, the basis for the central neurotoxicity of beta-N-methylamino-L-alanine has been unclear, as it lacks the omega acidic (or equivalent electronegative) moiety characteristic of other excitatory amino acids. beta-N-methylamino-L-alanine produced neurotoxic and neuroexcitatory effects in murine cortical cell cultures only when physiological concentrations of bicarbonate were available in the extracellular bathing medium. Bicarbonate may interact noncovalently with beta-N-methylamino-L-alanine to produce, in combination, a molecular configuration that activates glutamate receptors.