The homeodomain transcription factor Pitx3 facilitates differentiation of mouse embryonic stem cells into AHD2-expressing dopaminergic neurons

Mol Cell Neurosci. 2005 Feb;28(2):241-52. doi: 10.1016/j.mcn.2004.09.008.


The A9 dopaminergic (DA) neuronal group projecting to the dorsal striatum is the most vulnerable in Parkinson's disease (PD). We genetically engineered mouse embryonic stem (ES) cells to express the transcription factors Nurr1 or Pitx3. After in vitro differentiation of Pitx3-expressing ES cells, the proportion of DA neurons expressing aldehyde dehydrogenase 2 (AHD2) increased, while the total number of DA neurons remained the same. The highest levels of AHD2 expression were observed in mouse A9 DA neurons projecting to the dorsal striatum. Furthermore, real-time PCR analyses of in vitro differentiated Pitx3-expressing ES cells revealed that genes highly expressed in A9 DA neurons were up-regulated. When transplanted into the mouse striatum, Pitx3-expressing cells generated an increased proportion of AHD2-expressing DA neurons. Contrastingly, in Nurr1-expressing ES cells, increases of all midbrain DA markers were observed, resulting in a higher total number of DA neurons in vitro and in vivo, whereas the proportion of AHD2-expressing DA neurons was not changed. Our data, using gain-of-function analysis of ES cells, suggest that Pitx3 may be important for specification and/or maintenance of A9-like neuronal properties, while Nurr1 influences overall midbrain DA specification. These findings may be important for modifying ES cells to generate an optimal cell source for transplantation therapy of PD.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Alcohol Dehydrogenase / metabolism
  • Aldehyde Dehydrogenase / metabolism
  • Animals
  • Cell Culture Techniques / methods
  • Cell Differentiation / physiology*
  • Cell Line
  • DNA-Binding Proteins / genetics
  • DNA-Binding Proteins / metabolism
  • Dopamine / metabolism
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Developmental / physiology
  • Homeodomain Proteins / genetics
  • Homeodomain Proteins / metabolism
  • Homeodomain Proteins / physiology*
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Neurons / cytology
  • Neurons / metabolism*
  • Nuclear Receptor Subfamily 4, Group A, Member 2
  • Parkinson Disease / therapy
  • Pluripotent Stem Cells / cytology
  • Pluripotent Stem Cells / metabolism*
  • Rats
  • Stem Cell Transplantation / methods*
  • Substantia Nigra / cytology
  • Substantia Nigra / embryology
  • Substantia Nigra / metabolism
  • Transcription Factors / genetics
  • Transcription Factors / metabolism
  • Transcription Factors / physiology*
  • Transgenes / genetics
  • Up-Regulation / physiology


  • DNA-Binding Proteins
  • Homeodomain Proteins
  • Nr4a2 protein, mouse
  • Nr4a2 protein, rat
  • Nuclear Receptor Subfamily 4, Group A, Member 2
  • Transcription Factors
  • homeobox protein PITX3
  • Alcohol Dehydrogenase
  • alcohol dehydrogenase IV
  • Aldehyde Dehydrogenase
  • Dopamine