Temporally induced Nurr1 can induce a non-neuronal dopaminergic cell type in embryonic stem cell differentiation


: Professor Ole Isacson, Harvard Medical School, Neuroregeneration Laboratories, MRC 120, McLean Hospital, 115 Mill Street, Belmont, MA 02478.
E-mail: isacson@hms.harvard.edu


The nuclear transcription factor Nurr1 is involved in the development and maintenance of the midbrain dopaminergic (DA) neuronal phenotype. We analysed the cellular and biological effects of Nurr1 during embryonic stem (ES) cell differentiation using the ROSA26-engineered Tet-inducible ES cell line J1-rtTA that does not express transgenes in mature neurons. Induction of Nurr1 at nestin-positive precursor and later stages of ES cell differentiation produced a non-neuronal DA cell type including functional DA transporters. In these cells, we found a clear correlation between Nurr1 and TH gene expression and specific midbrain DA cellular markers such as AADC, AHD2 and calbindin. Nurr1 did not alter gene expression of non-DA neuronal phenotypes and did not influence other midbrain developmental transcription factors, such as Otx1, Otx2, En-1, GBX2, Pitx3 and lmx1b. In addition, Nurr1 expression was required for maintenance of the DA phenotype and mediated up-regulation of the tyrosine kinase Ret and associated trophic factor GDNF-family receptors α 1, 2, and 4. This demonstrates that Nurr1 is sufficient to induce and maintain a midbrain-like DA biochemical and functional cellular phenotype independent of neurogenesis.