Human Bacterial Artificial Chromosome (BAC) Transgenesis Fully Rescues Noradrenergic Function in Dopamine β-Hydroxylase Knockout Mice

PLoS One. 2016 May 5;11(5):e0154864. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0154864. eCollection 2016.


Dopamine β-hydroxylase (DBH) converts dopamine (DA) to norepinephrine (NE) in noradrenergic/adrenergic cells. DBH deficiency prevents NE production and causes sympathetic failure, hypotension and ptosis in humans and mice; DBH knockout (Dbh -/-) mice reveal other NE deficiency phenotypes including embryonic lethality, delayed growth, and behavioral defects. Furthermore, a single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) in the human DBH gene promoter (-970C>T; rs1611115) is associated with variation in serum DBH activity and with several neurological- and neuropsychiatric-related disorders, although its impact on DBH expression is controversial. Phenotypes associated with DBH deficiency are typically treated with L-3,4-dihydroxyphenylserine (DOPS), which can be converted to NE by aromatic acid decarboxylase (AADC) in the absence of DBH. In this study, we generated transgenic mice carrying a human bacterial artificial chromosome (BAC) encompassing the DBH coding locus as well as ~45 kb of upstream and ~107 kb of downstream sequence to address two issues. First, we characterized the neuroanatomical, neurochemical, physiological, and behavioral transgenic rescue of DBH deficiency by crossing the BAC onto a Dbh -/- background. Second, we compared human DBH mRNA abundance between transgenic lines carrying either a "C" or a "T" at position -970. The BAC transgene drove human DBH mRNA expression in a pattern indistinguishable from the endogenous gene, restored normal catecholamine levels to the peripheral organs and brain of Dbh -/- mice, and fully rescued embryonic lethality, delayed growth, ptosis, reduced exploratory activity, and seizure susceptibility. In some cases, transgenic rescue was superior to DOPS. However, allelic variation at the rs1611115 SNP had no impact on mRNA levels in any tissue. These results indicate that the human BAC contains all of the genetic information required for tissue-specific, functional expression of DBH and can rescue all measured Dbh deficiency phenotypes, but did not reveal an impact of the rs11115 variant on DBH expression in mice.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adrenal Glands / chemistry
  • Adrenergic Neurons / metabolism
  • Animals
  • Brain Chemistry
  • Chromosomes, Artificial, Bacterial / genetics
  • Chromosomes, Artificial, Bacterial / physiology*
  • Dopamine / analysis
  • Dopamine beta-Hydroxylase / genetics
  • Dopamine beta-Hydroxylase / metabolism*
  • Dopamine beta-Hydroxylase / physiology
  • Gene Transfer Techniques*
  • Humans
  • In Situ Hybridization
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Mice, Knockout
  • Mice, Transgenic
  • Motor Activity
  • Myocardium / chemistry
  • Norepinephrine / analysis
  • Real-Time Polymerase Chain Reaction


  • Dopamine beta-Hydroxylase
  • Dopamine
  • Norepinephrine