Tetrahydrobiopterin metabolism in depression and senile dementia of Alzheimer type

  • Shirley A. Jones

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


Excretion of biopterin and the related pteridines neopterin and pterin was measured in urine samples from a group of 76 male and female unipolar and bipolar depressed outpatients receiving lithium therapy, and compared to 61 male and female control subjects. The ratio of neopterin to biopterin excreted (N/B) was significantly higher in the patients than the controls. The significant positive correlation between urinary neopterin and biopterin shown by the controls was absent in the patients, indicating disrupted biosynthesis of tetrahydrobiopterin.Urinary cortisol excretion in depressed patients was similar to controls, implying normal hypothalmus-pituitary-adrenal axis function in these patients, Serum folate was shown to correlate with urinary total biopterin excretion in female unipolar patients.
Two groups of elderly females with senile dementia of Alzheimer type (SDAT) were examined for urinary pteridine excretion. In the first study of 10 patients, the N/B ratio was significantly higher than in 24 controls and the ratio B/B+ N significantly lower. A second study of 30 SDAT patients and 21 controls confirmed these findings. However, neopterin correlated with biopterin in both patients and controls, indicating that the alteration in tetrahydrobiopterin
metabolism may be different to that shown in depression.
Lithium had no effect in vivo or in vitro on Wistar rat brain or liver biosynthesis of tetrahydrobiopterin at a range of concentrations and duration of dosing period, showing that lithium was not responsible for the lowered biopterin excretion by
depressed patients.
No significant effects on tetrahydrobiopterin metabolism in the rat were shown by the tricyclic antidepressant imipramine, the anticonvulsant sodium valproate, the vitamin folic acid, the anticatecholaminergic agent amethylparatyrosine, the synthetic corticosteroid dexamethasone, or stimulation of natural
cortisol by immobilisation stress.
Scopolamine, an ant ichol inergic drug, lowered rat brain pterin which may relate to the tetrahydrobiopterin deficits shown in SDAT.
Date of AwardMar 1988
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorJohn A. Blair (Supervisor)


  • Tetrahydrobiopterin
  • neopterin
  • depression
  • lithium
  • senile dementia of Alzheimer type

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