Schizophrenia-relevant behaviors in a genetic mouse model of constitutive Nurr1 deficiency


U. Meyer, Laboratory of Behavioural Neurobiology, Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) Zurich, Schorenstrasse 16, 8603 Schwerzenbach, Switzerland. E-mail:


Nurr1 (NR4A2) is an orphan nuclear receptor highly essential for the dopaminergic development and survival. Altered expression of Nurr1 has been suggested as a potential genetic risk factor for dopamine-related brain disorders, including schizophrenia. In support of this, recent experimental work in genetically modified mice shows that mice with a heterozygous constitutive deletion of Nurr1 show a facilitation of the development of schizophrenia-related behavioral abnormalities. However, the behavioral characterization of this Nurr1-deficient mouse model remains incomplete. This study therefore used a comprehensive behavioral test battery to evaluate schizophrenia-relevant phenotypes in Nurr1-deficient mice. We found that these mice displayed increased spontaneous locomotor activity and potentiated locomotor reaction to systemic treatment with the non-competitive N-methyl-d-aspartate (NMDA) receptor antagonist, dizocilpine (MK-801). In addition, male but not female Nurr1-deficient mice showed significant deficits in the prepulse inhibition and prepulse-elicited reactivity. However, Nurr1 deletion did not induce overt abnormalities in other cardinal behavioral and cognitive functions known to be impaired in schizophrenia, including social interaction and recognition, spatial recognition memory or discrimination reversal learning. Our findings thus suggest that heterozygous constitutive deletion of Nurr1 results in a restricted phenotype characteristic of schizophrenia symptomatology, which primarily relates to motor activity, sensorimotor gating and responsiveness to the psychomimetic drug MK-801. This study further emphasizes a critical role of altered dopaminergic development in the precipitation of specific brain dysfunctions relevant to human psychotic disorder.