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The transcription factor BCL11A defines distinct subsets of midbrain dopaminergic neurons

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The transcription factor BCL11A defines distinct subsets of midbrain dopaminergic neurons

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Abstract

Highlights •Bcl11a is expressed in a subset of murine and human dopaminergic neurons •Bcl11a+ dopaminergic neurons form a highly specific subcircuit in mouse •Bcl11a+ substantia nigra neurons are particularly vulnerable to neurodegeneration •Bcl11a inactivation increases vulnerability and impairs motor behavior in mice Summary Midbrain dopaminergic (mDA) neurons are diverse in their projection targets, effect on behavior, and susceptibility to neurodegeneration. Little is known about the molecular mechanisms establishing this diversity during development. We show that the transcription factor BCL11A is expressed in a subset of mDA neurons in the developing and adult murine brain and in a subpopulation of pluripotent-stem-cell-derived human mDA neurons. By combining intersectional labeling and viral-mediated tracing, we demonstrate that Bcl11a-expressing mDA neurons form a highly specific subcircuit within the murine dopaminergic system. In the substantia nigra, the Bcl11a-expressing mDA subset is particularly vulnerable to neurodegeneration upon α-synuclein overexpression or oxidative stress. Inactivation of Bcl11a in murine mDA neurons increases this susceptibility further, alters the distribution of mDA neurons, and results in deficits in skilled motor behavior. In summary, BCL11A defines mDA subpopulations with highly distinctive characteristics and is required for establishing and maintaining their normal physiology.

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