Miniature release events of glutamate from hippocampal neurons are influenced by the dystonia-associated protein torsinA

Synapse. 2012 Sep;66(9):807-22. doi: 10.1002/syn.21571. Epub 2012 Jun 20.


TorsinA is an evolutionarily conserved AAA+ ATPase, and human patients with an in-frame deletion of a single glutamate (ΔE) codon from the encoding gene suffer from autosomal-dominant, early-onset generalized DYT1 dystonia. Although only 30-40% of carriers of the mutation show overt motor symptoms, most experience enhanced excitability of the central nervous system. The cellular mechanism responsible for this change in excitability is not well understood. Here we show the effects of the ΔE-torsinA mutation on miniature neurotransmitter release from neurons. Neurotransmitter release was characterized in cultured hippocampal neurons obtained from wild-type, heterozygous, and homozygous ΔE-torsinA knock-in mice using two approaches. In the first approach, patch-clamp electrophysiology was used to record glutamate-mediated miniature excitatory postsynaptic currents (mEPSCs) in the presence of the Na⁺ channel blocker tetrodotoxin (TTX) and absence of GABA(A) receptor antagonists. The intervals between mEPSC events were significantly shorter in neurons obtained from the mutant mice than in those obtained from wild-type mice. In the second approach, the miniature exocytosis of synaptic vesicles was detected by imaging the unstimulated release of FM dye from the nerve terminals in the presence of TTX. Cumulative FM dye release was higher in neurons obtained from the mutant mice than in those obtained from wild-type mice. The number of glutamatergic nerve terminals was also assessed, and we found that this number was unchanged in heterozygous relative to wild-type neurons, but slightly increased in homozygous neurons. Notably, in both heterozygous and homozygous neurons, the unitary synaptic charge during each mEPSC event was unchanged. Overall, our results suggest more frequent miniature glutamate release in neurons with ΔE-torsinA mutations. This change may be one of the underlying mechanisms by which the excitability of the central nervous system is enhanced in the context of DYT1 dystonia. Moreover, qualitative differences between heterozygous and homozygous neurons with respect to certain synaptic properties indicate that the abnormalities observed in homozygotes may reflect more than a simple gene dosage effect.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Dystonia Musculorum Deformans / genetics
  • Excitatory Postsynaptic Potentials / physiology
  • Exocytosis / physiology*
  • Glutamic Acid / metabolism*
  • Heterozygote
  • Hippocampus / cytology
  • Hippocampus / physiology*
  • Homozygote
  • Inhibitory Postsynaptic Potentials / physiology
  • Mice
  • Mice, Transgenic
  • Miniature Postsynaptic Potentials / physiology*
  • Molecular Chaperones / genetics*
  • Molecular Chaperones / metabolism
  • Mutation
  • Neurons / physiology*
  • Receptors, GABA-A / metabolism
  • Sodium Channels / drug effects
  • Sodium Channels / metabolism
  • Synaptic Vesicles / metabolism
  • Tetrodotoxin / pharmacology
  • Vesicular Glutamate Transport Protein 1 / metabolism


  • Dyt1 protein, mouse
  • Molecular Chaperones
  • Receptors, GABA-A
  • Sodium Channels
  • Vesicular Glutamate Transport Protein 1
  • Glutamic Acid
  • Tetrodotoxin