Phenotypic expression of the targeted null-mutation in the dopamine transporter gene varies as a function of the genetic background

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The dopamine transporter (DAT) plays a critical role in calibrating the duration and intensity of dopamine (DA) neurotransmission. Mice in which the DAT gene has been genetically deleted exhibit constitutively high levels of extrasynaptic DA and spontaneous hyperactivity. Numerous studies have characterized the adaptive molecular, physiological, and behavioural consequences of abnormal DA neurotransmission in these mice. In order to determine the genetic background contribution to these phenotypes, the DAT mutation was transferred on C57BL/6JOrl (B6) or DBA/2JOrl (D2) inbred backgrounds for more than ten generations of back-crossing to derive three B6-, D2-, and B6xD2(F1)-DAT strains. We observed that the genetic background dramatically affects phenotypes previously reported on DAT knockout (KO) mice. Depending on the genetic background, it was possible to restore survival, growth rate and ability to lactate. Interactions with the genetic background were found to modulate both quantitative and qualitative patterns of novelty-driven spontaneous hyperactivity. The paradoxical calming effect of cocaine was observed for all DAT-KO mice. However, the genetic background influenced individual threshold responses to both locomotor and rewarding effects of cocaine. These findings reveal the extent of phenotypic variation associated with the DAT mutation. They also provide concrete arguments against the assumption that the normal function of a gene can be inferred directly from its mutant phenotype.

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