Function of dopamine transporter is compromised in DYT1 transgenic animal model in vivo


Address correspondence and reprint requests to Aygul Balcioglu, Department of Neurology, Massachusetts General Hospital, 149 13th Street, Room 6217, Charlestown, MA 02129, USA. E-mail:


J. Neurochem. (2010) 10.1111/j.1471-4159.2010.06590.x


Early onset torsion dystonia (DYT1), the most common form of hereditary primary dystonia, is caused by a mutation in the TOR1A gene, which codes for the protein, torsinA. We previously examined the effect of the human mutant torsinA on striatal dopaminergic function in a conventional transgenic mouse model of DYT1 dystonia (hMT1), in which human mutant torsinA is expressed under the cytomegalovirus promotor. Systemic administration of amphetamine did not increase dopamine (DA) release as efficiently in these mice as compared with wild-type transgenic and non-transgenic mice. We, now, studied the contribution of the DA transporter (DAT) to amphetamine-induced DA release in hMT1 transgenic mice using in vivo no-net flux microdialysis. This method applies different concentrations of DA through the microdialysis probe and measures DA concentration at the output of the probe following an equilibrium period. The slope (extraction fraction) is the measure of the DAT activity in vivo. The slope for hMT1 transgenic mice was 0.58 ± 0.07 and for non-transgenic animals, 0.87 ± 0.06 (p < 0.05). We further investigated the efficacy of nomifensine (a specific DAT inhibitor) in inhibiting amphetamine-induced DA release. Local application of nomifensine 80 min before the systemic application of amphetamine inhibited DA release in both transgenic mice and their non-transgenic littermates. The efficiency of the inhibition appeared to be different, with mean values of 48% for hMT1 transgenic mice versus 84% for non-transgenic littermates. Moreover, we have evaluated basal and amphetamine-induced locomotion in hMT1 transgenic mice compared with their non-transgenic littermates, using an O-maze behavioral chamber. Basal levels of locomotion in the hMT1 transgenic mice showed that they moved much less than their non-transgenic littermates (0.9 ± 0.3 m for transgenic mice vs. 2.4 ± 0.7 m for non-transgenic littermates, p < 0.05). This relative reduction in locomotion was also observed following amphetamine administration (48.5 ± 6.7 m for transgenics vs. 73.7 ± 9.8 m for non-transgenics, p < 0.05). These results support the finding that there are altered dynamics of DA release and reuptake in hMT1 transgenic mice in vivo, with DAT activity is reduced in the presence of mutant torsinA, which is consistent with behavioral consequences such as reduced locomotion and (previously described) abnormal motor phenotypes such as increased hind-base width and impaired performance on the raised-beam task. These data implies that altered DAT function may contribute to impaired DA neurotransmission and clinical symptoms in human DYT1 dystonia.

Abbreviations used:



DA transporter


3,4-dihydroxyphenylacetic acid


endoplasmic reticulum



Dystonia is a disorder characterized by sustained muscle contractions, frequently causing twisting and repetitive movements, or abnormal postures (Jankovic and Fahn 1993). The most severe type of early onset generalized dystonia is an autosomal dominant disorder caused by a 3-bp deletion (ΔGAG) in the DYT1 gene that encodes torsinA (Ozelius et al. 1997). Symptoms of this disorder typically develop before the age of 21 years and include involuntary sustained muscle contractions that cause posturing of a foot, leg or arm, which frequently generalize to other body regions. The lifespan of affected individuals is not shortened, but the abnormal movements are debilitating and are difficult to treat.

The pathophysiologic mechanisms by which the ΔGAG mutation causes dystonia are unclear. There is no evidence for neuronal death in the limited number of postmortem examinations of DYT1 patients that have been conducted, although apparent enlargement of dopamine (DA) neurons (Rostasy et al. 2003) and the presence of ubiquitin inclusions (McNaught et al. 2004) have been reported. The affected protein, torsinA, shares homology with members of the AAA+ ATPase gene family (Lupas et al. 1997; Neuwald et al. 1999). Members of this family participate in numerous cellular functions, including protein folding and degradation, membrane trafficking and vesicle fusion (Ogura and Wilkinson 2001).

Genetics coupled with pharmacological studies have led to the hypothesis that at least some forms of dystonia may arise from disturbances in DA signaling. First, mutations within the TH gene (Knappskog et al. 1995), and the GTP cyclohydrolase gene (Ichinose et al. 1994), both of which limit DA synthesis result in a dystonic phenotype in humans. Second, a polymorphism within the DA D5 receptor gene has been associated with cervical dystonia (Placzek et al. 2001). Third, mechanical or ischemic lesions of the striatum and administration of pharmacological agents that block DA D2 receptors in vivo can result in a dystonic phenotype (Rupniak et al. 1986). Fourth, striatal D2 receptor binding in non-manifesting carriers of the DYT1 mutation is reduced (Asanuma et al. 2007).

In DYT1 dystonia, the available data on DA function are limited as there are very few DYT1 dystonia brains available for study, and until recently there has been a lack of relevant animal models for this disease. Previous work in a limited number of human DYT1 brains revealed an increase in the ratio of 3,4-dihydroxyphenylacetic acid (DOPAC), a DA metabolite, to DA (Augood et al. 2004). This increase suggests an abnormality in DA turnover, but the small number of cases available for study limited the strength of this conclusion.

Several published studies have focused on DA neurotransmission using different mouse models of DYT1 dystonia. The current animal models for DYT1 dystonia include various transgenic mice (Sharma et al. 2005; Shashidharan et al. 2005; Grundmann et al. 2007), in which expression of transgene is driven by assorted promoters resulting in expression of human mutant torsinA, and heterozygous ΔGAG knock-in mice and knock-out mice (Dang et al. 2005; Goodchild et al. 2005). Using transgenic DYT1 mouse, in which expression is driven by the cytomegalovirus promoter (Sharma et al. 2005), we have previously shown that the systemic administration of amphetamine-induced much less DA release in striatum of hMT1 mice as compared with hWT or control mice (Balcioglu et al. 2007). Reduced striatal tissue levels of DA metabolites–homovanillic acid and DOPAC and an increase in the ratio of DOPAC to DA in the same mouse model have also been reported (Zhao et al. 2008). Moreover, Pisani et al. (2006) showed that D2 receptor stimulation increased membrane depolarization in striatal cholinergic interneurons in the hMT1 mice compared with hWT mice. Dang et al. (2005) demonstrated reduced striatal tissue homovanillic acid levels in heterozygous Dyt1 ΔGAG knock-in mice, which express mouse mutant protein under the endogenous DYT1 promoter. They also showed reduced striatal tissue DOPAC levels in Dyt1 knock-down mice, which express lower level of mouse torsinA (Dang et al. 2005, 2006). Shashidharan et al. (2005) demonstrated reduced striatal DA levels in dystonic mice, which express mutant human torsinA under the neuronal enolase promoter. These findings all point to compromised DA neurotransmission in mouse models of DYT1 dystonia. Dopaminergic dysfunction in DYT1 dystonia and other forms of human dystonia has been reviewed in detail (Wichmann 2008). However, there is no information about the nature of the compromised DA system in dystonia. Pharmacological studies have implicated abnormalities in DA transporter, which is an important target for the action of amphetamine (Jones et al. 1998a; Sulzer et al. 2005). Thus, we studied the in vivo dynamics of DAT and the contribution of DAT to amphetamine-induced DA release along with behavioral consequences.



hMT1 transgenic mice expressing mutant-type human torsinA driven by the cytomegalovirus promotor were generated as described previously (Sharma et al. 2005). A total of 68 mice were used and housed with food and water ad libitum under controlled conditions (12 h light/dark cycle). Mice were genotyped prior to the experiments, and a second confirmatory genotyping was conducted at the end of each experiment.

Surgical procedures

Microdialysis experiments followed similar procedures established earlier (Rauge-Pont et al. 2002). Briefly, microdialysis studies were performed on six-month-old male transgenic DYT1 mice and their non-transgenic male littermates. All studies were performed on coded samples by experimenters blinded to genotype. Mice were anesthetized with ketamine/xylazine (100/10 mg/kg) and implanted unilaterally with a microdialysis guide cannula (CMA/7) aimed at the striatum using standard stereotaxic techniques with coordinates in mm: anterior 0.6, lateral 1.9 relative to bregma, and ventral 2.0 from the dura surface (based on the atlas of Franklin and Paxinos 1997). The microdialysis guide cannula and a head-mount screw, which permitted attachment of the animal to a spring tether, were cemented in place with dental acrylic. Animals were allowed to recover for 7–10 days before the microdialysis experiments.

Microdialysis procedures

The night before the experiment, the animal was brought into the experiment chamber and a microdialysis probe (CMA/7; membrane dimension 0.24 × 2 mm) was manually inserted into the guide cannula and perfused with artificial CSF containing (in mM): 147 NaCl, 2.7 KCl, 1 MgCl2, 1.2 CaCl2, 2.0 Na2HPO4, pH 7.4 ± 0.2. The inlet tubing of the probe was connected to a microinfusion pump via a dual quartz-lined swivel set at a flow rate of 1 μL/min, and the animal was placed into the Plexiglas test chamber. The animals were allowed to habituate to the microdialysis environment overnight. This habituation period also allowed levels of DA to return to baseline levels after the probe insertion. The following day, four consecutive 20-min samples were collected for the determination of basal levels of DA. Baseline is defined as the average of these four samples. After the collection of baseline samples, animals received nomifensine (NOM) (20 μM; Sigma-Aldrich, St Louis, MO, USA) locally and one sample was collected every 20 min for the next 80 min. Then they received amphetamine in saline (5 mg/kg, i.p.) and additional samples were collected every 20 min for the following 100 min. The same protocol was used for AMP experiments alone. After the collection of baseline samples, animals received saline (10 cc/kg, i.p.). One sample was collected every 20 min for the next 100 min. The animals then received amphetamine in saline (5 mg/kg, i.p.) and additional samples were collected every 20 min for the following 100 min. Samples were stored at −80°C until analyzed using HPLC-EC as described previously (Balcioglu et al. 2003). At the end of each experiment, animals were perfused with formaldehyde (4% in saline) and brains were removed and sectioned into 50-μm-thick sections using a vibratome. Sections were stained with Nissl for anatomical observations. Only animals with correct probe placement were used in data analysis. Probes were considered to be correctly placed by evaluating the probe tracks in the stained sections to be on the plane of the intended coordinates of anterior 0.6, lateral 1.9 relative to bregma, and ventral 2.0 from the dura surface (based on the atlas of Franklin and Paxinos 1997) under the light microscope. Animals that had tilted probe placements were not included in the data analysis.

No-flux microdialysis experiments

Brain microdialysis was performed in the striatum of freely moving mice using concentric microdialysis probes (2 mm membrane length; cut off 6000 Da; CMA-7, CMA/Microdialysis, Solna, Sweden). Perfusate samples were collected consequently as 20 min sample fractions. After basal DA levels were established, different DA concentrations were perfused through the probe in randomized order and loss or gain of DA was measured (Justice 1993; Chefer et al. 2005) in the third fraction following two fractions allowing equilibration to the extracellular DA, for each applied DA concentration. Measurements of DA in microdialysis samples were carried out by HPLC with electrochemical detection with a microbore column (3 μm particles, C18, 3.2 × 150 mm; ESA, Chelmsford, MA, USA) and electrochemically detected with a Unijet (3 mm) electrode. The mobile phase contained 50 mM sodium citrate, 10 mM NaH2PO4, 0.5 mM octyl sodium sulfate, 0.1 mM EDTA, and 17% methanol, at pH 3.5.

Nomifensine dose response experiments

To determine the concentration of NOM that is inhibitory for DAT function, the effect of NOM was determined in four groups with n = 4 each. The purpose of these preliminary experiments were to find a concentration for our experiments that would inhibit amphetamine-induced DA release in non-transgenic mice and thus would allow us to compare the effect of the same concentration in transgenic mice. Twenty micromolar NOM was found to block amphetamine-induced DA release in non-transgenic mice. The same concentration of NOM was applied to transgenic mice 80 min before the administration of amphetamine. The purpose of applying NOM 80 min before AMP administration is to allow NOM to equilibrate and to block DAT before AMP administration. The chemicals applied through the microdialysis probes get diluted in the extracellular environment; that is why titration of the effective concentration is necessary for each experimental condition. Chemicals applied through the microdialysis probes travel to a sphere of a certain distance to act on their appropriate targets, which is why the equilibrium time is necessary.

Locomotor activity

All animals that underwent microdialysis were also tested for locomotor activity in O-mazes, each of which consisted of two clear Plexiglas cylinders (3.5 mm thick) arranged concentrically one within the other, with diameters of 14 and 24 cm, adapted from earlier studies (Piazza et al. 1989; Rouge-Pont et al. 1998). Animals were placed in the circular corridor between the two Plexiglas walls to monitor the number of quarter turns along the corridor before and after the administration of amphetamine. Mice were allowed to habituate to their chambers for 1 h, and then quarter turns were counted for 1 h before and 2 h after the administration of amphetamine in the test apparatus. The mice were treated i.p. with amphetamine (5 mg/kg, i.p.). At the end of the experiment, quarter turns are converted to distance traveled by using π×d formula to calculate the circumference of a circle (d = the diameter of 19 cm). We also evaluated the stereotyped behavior for each genotype. We recorded the time spent on confined sniffing, licking, mounting, gnawing and head bobbing.


For microdialysis experiments, two-way anova was used to evaluate the effects of treatment and genotype followed by post hoc tests using the Bonferroni method. For behavioral experiments, Student’s t-test was used. Significance level was p < 0.05. Prism 4 software was used to conduct these analyses.


No-net flux microdialysis

We studied the dynamics of DAT in vivo using no-net flux microdialysis. This method applies different concentrations of DA through the microdialysis probe and measures DA concentration at the output of the probe following an equilibrium period. The difference between DA concentration applied through the inlet of the microdialysis probe and DA concentration collected through the output of probe is plotted for each concentration of DA applied through the probe inlet. A slope is calculated for the linear regression for DA applied and the difference between DA applied and DA measured. The slope (extraction fraction) is the measure of the activity of DAT in vivo. The slope for non-transgenic animals was 0.87 ± 0.06 and for hMT1 transgenic mice 0.58 ± 0.07 (p < 0.05) (Fig. 1b).

Figure 1.

 Dopamine (DA) transporter (DAT) works less efficiently in transgenic mice than it does in non-transgenic mice. No-net flux microdialysis to quantitate basal DAT dynamics in hMT1 mice. Data represent mean ± SEM, n = 6 and 10 for non-transgenic and hMT1 mice, respectively. (a). Four different concentrations of DA in CSF (0, 5, 10, and 20 nM DA) were perfused through the probes in random order to determine the extracellular DA concentration and extraction fraction. After a 40-min equilibration period, a 20-min dialysis samples were collected at each DA concentration to quantify DA concentration in the perfusates using HPLC coupled with electrochemical detection. Linear regression for the DA perfused and DA measured provided extraction fraction (slope) as an indirect measure of DAT dynamics in vivo to remove extracellular DA. (b) Extraction fraction for non-transgenic animals was 0.87 ± 0.06 and for hMT1 transgenic mice 0.58 ± 0.07 (*p < 0.05) (n = 6 for non-transgenics; n = 10 for transgenics).

Effect of nomifensine on amphetamine-induced DA release

We further studied the efficacy of NOM on amphetamine-induced DA release in hMT1 transgenic mice. NOM is a specific DAT inhibitor, which shows a wide range of inhibitory concentrations in different experimental systems (Jones et al. 1995; Orset et al. 2005). Thus, we used a range of NOM concentration to block amphetamine’s effect to decide the appropriate concentration for our system. We performed dose response studies with NOM (1, 10, 20, 40 μM) to determine the dose that would inhibit amphetamine-induced DA release in our experimental system. Twenty micromolar NOM was found to block (84%) amphetamine-induced DA release in non-transgenic littermates (Fig. 2). The same concentration also reduced amphetamine-induced DA release in the transgenic mice, but the efficiency of the inhibition at this concentration appeared to be different: we calculated means of 48% for transgenic versus 84% for non-transgenic mice compared with amphetamine-induced DA release alone (Fig. 2). This inhibition in non-transgenic mice was statistically significant, whereas it was not in transgenic mice. Extracellular levels of DA following amphetamine alone and amphetamine with NOM were 561 ± 132% and 91 ± 16% (F1;26 = 3.68, p < 0.01) of baseline, respectively, in non-transgenic littermates. And DA levels were 253 ± 71% and 132 ± 30% (F1;26 = 0.89, p > 0.05) in transgenic mice. The DA levels following NOM alone were 124 ± 21% of baseline (F(2;31) = 0.41, p > 0.05) for non-transgenic and were 160 ± 18% (F(2;31) = 1.04, p > 0.05) for transgenic mice.

Figure 2.

 Nomifensine inhibited amphetamine-stimulated striatal extracellular dopamine (dopamine) levels in non-transgenic control but not in hMT1 mice. All mice were treated locally with NOM (20 μM) 80 min before the administration of amphetamine (5 mg/kg, i.p). Data are normalized to the pre-treatment basal concentration in each animal. Difference between groups for amphetamine-stimulated DA levels was significant at the level of *p < 0.05 (n = 7 for hMT1 mice and n = 9 for their non-transgenic littermates) but not significant for DA levels following NOM + AMPH administration (n = 6 for hMT1 mice and n = 8 for their non-transgenic littermates).

Locomotor activity

In addition, we quantified basal and amphetamine-induced locomotion in hMT1 transgenic and their non-transgenic littermates using an O-maze behavioral chamber (Piazza et al. 1990, 1996). Mice were allowed to habituate to their chamber for 1 h, and distance traveled was calculated for 1 h before and 2 h after the administration of amphetamine (5 mg/kg, i.p.). Basal levels of locomotion in these mice showed that they moved much less than their non-transgenic littermates [0.9 ± 0.3 m for transgenic mice vs. 2.4 ± 0.7 m for non-transgenic littermates (p < 0.05)]. This relative reduction in locomotion was also observed following amphetamine administration (48.5 ± 6.7 m for transgenic vs. 73.7 ± 9.8 m for non-transgenic mice, p < 0.05; Fig. 3). There was no stereotyped behavior before the administration of amphetamine for both genotypes. Following the administration, the time spent with stereotyped behavior was not different between two genotypes (data not shown).

Figure 3.

 Distance traveled in hMT1 mice under basal condition and following amphetamine administration (5 mg/kg, i.p.). Transgenic mice travel less distance than non-transgenic mice following amphetamine administration, as well as under basal conditions. Locomotion is quantified 1 h before and 2 h after administration of amphetamine. Data represent mean ± SEM, n = 7 and 9 for non-transgenic and hMT1 mice, respectively. Distance traveled was 2.4 ± 0.7 m and 0.9 ± 0.3 m over 1 h for non-transgenics and hMT1 mice, respectively, under basal conditions. The difference was significant at the level of p < 0.05. Distance traveled was 73.7 ± 9.8 m and 48.5 ± 6.7 m over 2 h for non-transgenics and hMT1 mice, respectively, following amphetamine administration. The difference was significant at the level of *p < 0.05.


We have found that DAT in hMT1 mice works less efficiently to remove extracellular DA in vivo in the striatum and that these mice travel less distance under basal conditions and following amphetamine administration.

We previously reported that expression of human mutant torsinA leads to an impairment of amphetamine-induced DA release. We were not able to attribute this effect to a reduction in the synthesis or storage of DA, because the striatal tissue levels of DA and its metabolites were not affected by expression of human mutant torsinA. Amphetamine is a complicated drug, which elicits its effect through variety of different targets, the most important being DAT (Sulzer et al. 2005; Williams and Galli 2006). Thus, we undertook no-net flux microdialysis (Jones et al. 1998b; Chefer et al. 2005) to study the efficiency of DAT in vivo in removing DA that was applied extracellularly in the striatum. The calculated lower extraction fraction indicated that DAT worked significantly less-efficiently to remove DA from the extracellular space in hMT1 mice, as compared with their non-transgenic littermates. As seen in the graph (Fig. 1), the slope of the curve was much lower for these mice suggesting that extracellular DA was not removed by DAT as efficiently compared with non-transgenic littermates. This finding could explain the impaired amphetamine-induced DA release in transgenic mice (Balcioglu et al. 2007). Less efficient DAT would take up much less amphetamine into cytosol/vesicles, and hence result in less release of DA into cytosol and the synapse. We previously studied binding of [3H]-mazindol (a ligand for DAT) in human mutant torsinA transgenic mice (Balcioglu et al. 2007) and did not report a significant difference in the density of total striatal DAT binding sites. It is important to note that the saturation binding experiments we performed addressed the total number of DAT protein and does not distinguish between functional surface and intracellular ligand binding sites.

Extracellular DA, on the other hand, is taken up by the functional membrane bound DAT. Thus no-net flux microdialysis experiments are more accurate in studying the functional status of DAT in vivo rather than comparing total number of DATs. It is plausible that either a lower number of functional membrane bound DAT or less-efficient membrane bound DAT might account for the difference in removing extracellular DA. Both possibilities are consistent with the predicted function of torsinA in which it is involved in the processing of proteins through endoplasmic reticulum (ER). Impaired processing of DAT through ER as a consequence of mutated torsinA might lead to either lower number or less efficient DAT on the membrane. In fact, torsinA is located primarily in the ER component of the secretory pathway (Hewett et al. 2000; Kustedjo et al. 2000; Liu et al. 2003) and is involved in processing proteins through that pathway (Torres et al. 2004; Hewett et al. 2007). The secretory pathway controls processing of a variety of proteins destined for cell membranes, organelles and the extracellular space, and is critical in vesicular release and reuptake of neurotransmitters (Ellgaard and Helenius 2003). Oligomerization of neurotransmitter transporters is a ‘ticket’ from the ER to the plasma membrane (Farhan et al. 2006). Consistent with a role in vesicular release of transmitters, torsinA has also been found in association with vesicles at synaptic terminals in human brain (Augood et al. 1999) and Drosophila neurons (Koh et al. 2004). In addition, other cellular data show that torsinA may modulate the function of vesicular monoamine transporter 2 and DAT (Torres et al. 2004; Misbahuddin et al. 2005) both of which are very important proteins in DA release and turnover. TorsinA is a member of the family of ATPases and may mediate ATP-dependent conformational remodeling reactions involving processing substrate proteins or protein complexes, such as DAT. Thus, it is possible that the altered amphetamine-induced DA release and DA reuptake arise from reduced surface expression and/or inefficient kinetics of DAT, which were not detected using ligand binding assay.

Extracellular DA could also be taken up by norepinephrine transporter. However, this seems to occur in areas where the distribution of DAT is sparse, such as the frontal cortex. Morón et al. (2002) clearly discussed that DA uptake in caudate nucleus of striatum primarily depended on the DAT unlike of frontal cortex. Because both non-specific and specific DAT inhibitors (cocaine and GBR 12 909, respectively) inhibited DA uptake into caudate synaptosomes from norepinephrine transporter knock-out mice, while they failed to do so in the frontal cortex synaptosomes from the same animals. Thus, the extinction coefficient of no-net flux microdialysis experiments with hMT1 mice represents activity of the DAT in the striatum to remove DA from extracellular environment.

Furthermore, we also explored the efficiency of NOM, a specific DAT inhibitor, to reduce amphetamine-induced DA release. We expected that if DAT works less than optimally in hMT1 mice, then NOM would have a different profile of inhibiting DAT. Twenty micromolar concentration appeared to block amphetamine’s effect by 84% in non-transgenic mice. The same concentration of NOM inhibited amphetamine-induced DA release by 48% in transgenic mice. The inhibition by NOM was statistically significant compared with amphetamine-treated non-transgenic mice whereas it was not in amphetamine-treated transgenic mice. This difference in NOM’s ability to inhibit amphetamine-induced DA release supports our contention that there is a difference in the activity of DAT in vivo in the presence of mutant torsinA. This suggests that DAT is involved in amphetamine-induced DA release in transgenic mice, and the less efficient inhibition by NOM in transgenic mice would be consistent with fewer and/or less efficient, possibly improperly processed, DAT at the dopaminergic terminal in hMT1 mice.

We also studied locomotion, very complicated behavior, in these mice. Even though there is no simple relationship between DA release and a specific behavioral profile, DA is crucial component in the motor activating effect of amphetamine. Amphetamine acutely increases extracellular DA in terminal DA fields by acting on DAT and this is thought to mediate the motor stimulation by amphetamine (Kuczenski and Segal 1992; Kuczenski et al. 1995). We observed that hMT1 mice travel significantly less following amphetamine administration, as well as under basal conditions, as compared with non-transgenic littermates. These results are consistent with altered dynamics of DAT in hMT1 transgenic mice with behavioral consequences. Reduced response to amphetamine-induced movement in transgenic mice would be in accord with impaired release of DA through DAT following its administration (Balcioglu et al. 2007). We also observed reduced locomotion under basal conditions. The fact that DAT functioned less efficiently in hMT1 mice is in accord with the notion that abnormalities in dopaminergic neurotransmission in mice have been associated with hypoactivity. In contrast, DAT knock-out mice show hyperlocomotion. The extent of the impaired DAT function may determine the behavioral outcome. While complete loss of DAT function leading to five times higher basal DA levels can cause hyperlocomotion (Giros et al. 1996), gradual loss of DAT function leading to no detectable change in basal DA levels may cause hypolocomotion. Moreover, these hMT1 transgenic mice have been evaluated for variety of behavioral phenotypes. They showed reduced motor learning performance in an accelerating rotarod paradigm (Sharma et al. 2005), prolonged traversal times on both square and round raised-beam tasks and more slips on the round raised-beam task and increased hind-base width (Zhao et al. 2008). Raised-beam task has been used to characterize motor dysfunction in murine models of ‘basal ganglia’ disorders such as Parkinson’s disease (Strome et al. 2006).

In conclusion, expression of human mutant torsinA expression appears to lead to compromise of DA neurotransmission, at least in part because of less efficient DAT. This would lead to impaired DA release under challenged conditions, such as amphetamine exposure, along with the impaired motor activation. Our working hypothesis is that mutant torsinA interferes with processing of proteins crucial to neurotransmission, such as DAT that is involved in DA release and re-uptake at the synapse. Changes (subtle and/or long lasting) in the function of such proteins may compromise the dynamics and regulation of DA release. Any triggering event (trauma, toxin, drug exposure, etc.) during the lifetime of DYT1 carriers may contribute to onset of dystonic symptoms because of the resulting compromise in regulation of DA release.


We thank Dr Xandra Breakefield for helpful advice. This work was supported by Dystonia Medical Research Foundation (DMRF) and Parkinson’s and Movement Disorders Foundation (PMDF) grants to Dr Aygul Balcioglu.