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Mice expressing markedly reduced striatal dopamine transporters exhibit increased locomotor activity, dopamine uptake turnover rate, and cocaine responsiveness


Correspondence to: Dr. Anjali Rao, Department of Pharmacology MS 8303, School of Medicine, University of Colorado - Anschutz Medical Campus, Aurora, CO 80045. e-mail:


Variations in the expression levels of the dopamine transporter (DAT) can influence responsiveness to psychostimulant drugs like cocaine. To better understand this relationship, we studied a new DAT-low expresser (DAT-LE) mouse model and performed behavioral and biochemical studies with it. Immunoblotting and [3H]WIN 35,428 binding analyses revealed that these mice express ∼35% of wildtype (WT) mouse striatal DAT levels. Compared to WT mice, DAT-LE mice were hyperactive in a novel open-field environment. Despite their higher basal locomotor activity, cocaine (10 or 20 mg/kg, i.p.) induced greater locomotor activation in DAT-LE mice than in WT mice. The maximal velocity (Vmax) of DAT-mediated [3H]DA uptake into striatal synaptosomes was reduced by 46% in DAT-LE mice, as compared to WT. Overall, considering the reduced number of DAT binding sites (Bmax) along with the reduced Vmax in DAT-LE mice, a 2-fold increase in DA uptake turnover rate (Vmax/Bmax) was found, relative to WT mice. This suggests that neuroadaptive changes have occurred in the DAT-LE mice that would help to compensate for their low DAT numbers. Interestingly, these changes do not include a reduction in tyrosine hydroxylase levels, as was previously reported in DAT knockout homozygous and heterozygous animals. Further, these changes are not sufficient to prevent elevated novelty- and cocaine-induced locomotor activity. Hence, these mice represent a unique model for studying changes of in vivo DAT function and regulation that result from markedly reduced levels of DAT expression. Synapse 67:668–677, 2013. © 2013 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.