Although dysregulated substance P (SP) has been implicated in the pathophysiology of Parkinson's disease (PD), how SP affects the survival of dopaminergic neurons remains unclear. Here, we found that mice lacking endogenous SP (TAC1−/−), but not those deficient in the SP receptor (neurokinin-1 receptor, NK1R), were more resistant to lipopolysaccharide (LPS)- and 1-methyl-4-phenyl-1,2,3,6-tetrahydropyridine (MPTP)-induced nigral dopaminergic neurodegeneration than wild-type controls, suggesting a NK1R-independent toxic action of SP. In vitro dose–response studies revealed that exogenous SP enhanced LPS- and 1-methyl-4-phenylpyridinium (MPP+)-induced dopaminergic neurodegeneration in a bimodal manner, peaking at submicromolar and subpicomolar concentrations, but was substantially less effective at intermediate concentrations. Mechanistically, the actions of submicromolar levels of SP were NK1R-dependent, whereas subpicomolar SP-elicited actions required microglial NADPH oxidase (NOX2), the key superoxide-producing enzyme, but not NK1R. Subpicomolar concentrations of SP activated NOX2 by binding to the catalytic subunit gp91phox and inducing membrane translocation of the cytosolic subunits p47phox and p67phox. The importance of NOX2 was further corroborated by showing that inhibition or disruption of NOX2 blocked subpicomolar SP-exacerbated neurotoxicity. Together, our findings revealed a critical role of microglial NOX2 in mediating the neuroinflammatory and dopaminergic neurodegenerative effects of SP, which may provide new insights into the pathogenesis of PD.
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