Background: Dominant mutations in the leucine-rich repeat kinase 2 (LRRK2) gene are the most prevalent cause of Parkinson's disease, however, little is known about the biological function of LRRK2 protein. LRRK2 is expressed in neural precursor cells suggesting a role in neurodevelopment.
Methodology/principal findings: In the present study, differential gene expression profiling revealed a faster silencing of pluripotency-associated genes, like Nanog, Oct4, and Lin28, during retinoic acid-induced neuronal differentiation of LRRK2-deficient mouse embryonic stem cells compared to wildtype cultures. By contrast, expression of neurotransmitter receptors and neurotransmitter release was increased in LRRK2+/- cultures indicating that LRRK2 promotes neuronal differentiation. Consistently, the number of neural progenitor cells was higher in the hippocampal dentate gyrus of adult LRRK2-deficient mice. Alterations in phosphorylation of the putative LRRK2 substrates, translation initiation factor 4E binding protein 1 and moesin, do not appear to be involved in altered differentiation, rather there is indirect evidence that a regulatory signaling network comprising retinoic acid receptors, let-7 miRNA and downstream target genes/mRNAs may be affected in LRRK2-deficient stem cells in culture.
Conclusion/significance: Parkinson's disease-linked LRRK2 mutations that associated with enhanced kinase activity may affect retinoic acid receptor signaling during neurodevelopment and/or neuronal maintenance as has been shown in other mouse models of chronic neurodegenerative diseases.