Vesicular Monoamine Transporter 2 (VMAT2) Level Regulates MPTP Vulnerability and Clearance of Excess Dopamine in Mouse Striatal Terminals

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The vesicular monoamine transporter 2 (VMAT2) packages neurotransmitters for release during neurotransmission and sequesters toxicants into vesicles to prevent neuronal damage. In mice, low VMAT2 levels causes catecholaminergic cell loss and behaviors resembling Parkinson’s disease, while high levels of VMAT2 increase dopamine release and protect against dopaminergic toxicants. However, comparisons across these VMAT2 mouse genotypes were impossible due to the differing genetic background strains of the animals. Following back-crossing to a C57BL/6 line, we confirmed that mice with approximately 95% lower VMAT2 levels compared with wild-type (VMAT2-LO) display significantly reduced vesicular uptake, progressive dopaminergic terminal loss with aging, and exacerbated 1-methyl-4-phenyl-1,2,3,6-tetrahydropyridine (MPTP) toxicity. Conversely, VMAT2-overexpressing mice (VMAT2-HI) are protected from the loss of striatal terminals following MPTP treatment. We also provide evidence that enhanced vesicular filling in the VMAT2-HI mice modifies the handling of newly synthesized dopamine, indicated by changes in indirect measures of extracellular dopamine clearance. These results confirm the role of VMAT2 in the protection of vulnerable nigrostriatal dopamine neurons and may also provide new insight into the side effects of L-DOPA treatments in Parkinson’s disease.

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