Downregulation of tyrosine hydroxylase phenotype after AAV injection above substantia nigra: Caution in experimental models of Parkinson's disease

J Neurosci Res. 2019 Mar;97(3):346-361. doi: 10.1002/jnr.24363. Epub 2018 Dec 12.


Adeno-associated virus (AAV) vector-mediated delivery of human α-synuclein (α-syn) gene in rat substantia nigra (SN) results in increased expression of α-syn protein in the SN and striatum which can progressively degenerate dopaminergic neurons. Therefore, this model is thought to recapitulate the neurodegeneration in Parkinson's disease. Here, using AAV to deliver α-syn above the SN in male and female rats resulted in clear expression of human α-syn in the SN and striatum. The protein was associated with moderate behavioral deficits and some loss of tyrosine hydroxylase (TH) in the nigrostriatal areas. However, the immunohistochemistry results were highly variable and showed little to no correlation with behavior and the amount of α-syn present. Expression of green fluorescent protein (GFP) was used as a control to monitor gene delivery and expression efficacy. AAV-GFP resulted in a similar or greater TH loss compared to AAV-α-syn and therefore an additional vector that does not express a protein was tested. Vectors with double-floxed inverse open reading frame (DIO ORF) encoding fluorescent proteins that generate RNA that is not translated also resulted in TH downregulation in the SN but showed no significant behavioral deficits. These results demonstrate that although expression of wild-type human α-syn can cause neurodegeneration, the variability and lack of correlation with outcome measures are drawbacks with the model. Furthermore, design and control selection should be considered carefully because of conflicting conclusions due to AAV downregulation of TH, and we recommend caution with having highly regulated TH as the only marker for the dopamine system.

Keywords: DIO; GFP; Parkinson’s disease; adeno-associated virus; alpha-synuclein; dopamine; substantia nigra.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Dependovirus
  • Dopamine / metabolism
  • Down-Regulation
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Models, Animal
  • Parkinson Disease / metabolism
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Rats, Wistar
  • Substantia Nigra / metabolism*
  • Tyrosine 3-Monooxygenase / metabolism*
  • alpha-Synuclein / metabolism*


  • alpha-Synuclein
  • Tyrosine 3-Monooxygenase
  • Dopamine