Quinolinic acid (QUIN), an endogenous metabolite of the kynurenine pathway, is involved in several neurological disorders, including Huntington's disease, Alzheimer's disease, schizophrenia, HIV associated dementia (HAD) etc. QUIN toxicity involves several mechanisms which trigger various metabolic pathways and transcription factors. The primary mechanism exerted by this excitotoxin in the central nervous system (CNS) has been largely related with the overactivation of N-methyl-D-aspartate receptors and increased cytosolic Ca2+ concentrations, followed by mitochondrial dysfunction, cytochrome c release, ATP exhaustion, free radical formation and oxidative damage. As a result, this toxic pattern is responsible for selective loss of middle size striatal spiny GABAergic neurons and motor alterations in lesioned animals. This toxin has recently gained attention in biomedical research as, in addition to its proven excitotoxic profile, a considerable amount of evidence suggests that oxidative stress and energetic disturbances are major constituents of its toxic pattern in the CNS. Hence, this profile has changed our perception of how QUIN-related disorders combine different toxic mechanisms resulting in brain damage. This review will focus on the description and integration of recent evidence supporting old and suggesting new mechanisms to explain QUIN toxicity.
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