Dopamine is cytotoxic and may play a role in the development of Parkinson's disease. However, its interaction with environmental risk factors such as pesticides remains poorly understood. The vesicular monoamine transporter (VMAT) regulates intracellular dopamine content, and we have tested the neuroprotective effects of VMAT in vivo using the model organism Drosophila melanogaster. We find that Drosophila VMAT (dVMAT) mutants contain fewer dopaminergic neurons than wild type, consistent with a developmental effect, and that dopaminergic cell loss in the mutant is exacerbated by the pesticides rotenone and paraquat. Overexpression of DVMAT protein does not increase the survival of animals exposed to rotenone, but blocks the loss of dopaminergic neurons caused by this pesticide. These results are the first to demonstrate an interaction between a VMAT and pesticides in vivo, and provide an important model to investigate the mechanisms by which pesticides and cellular DA may interact to kill dopaminergic cells.
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