Brain Res Bull 2006 Jun 22;70(2):186-95. Epub 2006 May 22.
National Institute for Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, MD 20892, USA.
The nuclear receptor Nurr1 is essential for the development of midbrain dopamine neurons and appears to be an important regulator of dopamine levels as adult Nurr1-null heterozygous (+/-) mice have reduced mesolimbic/mesocortical dopamine levels. The mechanism(s) through which reduced Nurr1 expression affects dopamine levels has not been determined. Quantitative real-time PCR revealed a significant reduction in tyrosine hydroxylase (TH) and GTP cyclohydrolase (GTPCH) mRNA in ventral midbrain of +/- mice as compared to wild-type mice (+/+). The effect on TH expression was only observed at birth, while reduced GTP cyclohydrolase was also observed in the adult ventral tegemental area. No differences in dopamine transporter, vesicular monoamine transporter, dopamine D2 receptor or aromatic amino acid decarboxylase were observed. Since TH and GTPCH are both involved in dopamine synthesis, regulation of in vivo TH activity was measured in these mice. In vivo TH activity was reduced in nucleus accumbens and striatum of the +/- mice (24.7% and 15.7% reduction, respectively). In the striatum, gamma-butyrolactone exacerbated differences on +/- striatal TH activity (29.8% reduction) while haloperidol equalized TH activity between the +/+ and +/-. TH activity in the nucleus accumbens was significantly reduced in all conditions measured. Furthermore, dopamine levels in the striatum of +/- mice were significantly reduced after inhibition of dopamine synthesis or after haloperidol treatment but not under basal conditions while dopamine levels in the nucleus accumbens were reduced under basal conditions. Based on these data the +/- genotype results in changes in gene expression and impairs dopamine synthesis which can affect the maintenance of dopamine levels, although with differential effects between mesolimbic/mesocortical and nigrostriatal dopamine neurons. Together, these data suggest that Nurr1 may function to modify TH and GTPCH expression and dopamine synthesis.