Dopamine in the body is normally broken down by oxidation catalyzed by the enzyme monoamine oxidase. However, dopamine is also capable of autoxidation, that is, direct reaction with oxygen, yielding quinones plus various free radicals as products. The rate of autoxidation can be increased by the presence of ferrous iron or other factors. The ability of dopamine autoxidation to produce quinones and free radicals makes it a potent cell toxin, and there is evidence that this mechanism may contribute to cell loss that occurs in Parkinson's disease or other conditions.
Autoxidation is any oxidation that occurs in open air or in presence of oxygen and/or UV radiation and forms peroxides and hydroperoxides. A classic example of autoxidation is that of simple ethers like diethyl ether, whose peroxides can be dangerously explosive. It can be considered to be a slow, flameless combustion of materials by reaction with oxygen. Autoxidation is important because it is a useful reaction for converting compounds to oxygenated derivatives, and also because it occurs in situations where it is not desired as in the destructive cracking of the rubber in automobile tires.