PLoS genetics

Rgs6 is required for adult maintenance of dopaminergic neurons in the ventral substantia nigra.

PMID 25501001


Parkinson disease (PD) is characterized by the preferential, but poorly understood, vulnerability to degeneration of midbrain dopaminergic (mDA) neurons in the ventral substantia nigra compacta (vSNc). These sensitive mDA neurons express Pitx3, a transcription factor that is critical for their survival during development. We used this dependence to identify, by flow cytometry and expression profiling, the negative regulator of G-protein signaling Rgs6 for its restricted expression in these neurons. In contrast to Pitx3-/- mDA neurons that die during fetal (vSNc) or post-natal (VTA) period, the vSNc mDA neurons of Rgs6-/- mutant mice begin to exhibit unilateral signs of degeneration at around 6 months of age, and by one year cell loss is observed in a fraction of mice. Unilateral cell loss is accompanied by contralateral degenerating neurons that exhibit smaller cell size, altered morphology and reduced dendritic network. The degenerating neurons have low levels of tyrosine hydroxylase (TH) and decreased nuclear Pitx3; accordingly, expression of many Pitx3 target gene products is altered, including Vmat2, Bdnf, Aldh1a1 (Adh2) and Fgf10. These low TH neurons also express markers of increased dopamine signaling, namely increased DAT and phospho-Erk1/2 expression. The late onset degeneration may reflect the protective action of Rgs6 against excessive DA signaling throughout life. Rgs6-dependent protection is thus critical for adult survival and maintenance of the vSNc mDA neurons that are most affected in PD.