VGluT2 Expression in Dopamine Neurons Contributes to Postlesional Striatal Reinnervation

J Neurosci. 2020 Oct 21;40(43):8262-8275. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.0823-20.2020. Epub 2020 Sep 14.


A subset of adult ventral tegmental area dopamine (DA) neurons expresses vesicular glutamate transporter 2 (VGluT2) and releases glutamate as a second neurotransmitter in the striatum, while only few adult substantia nigra DA neurons have this capacity. Recent work showed that cellular stress created by neurotoxins such as MPTP and 6-hydroxydopamine can upregulate VGluT2 in surviving DA neurons, suggesting the possibility of a role in cell survival, although a high level of overexpression could be toxic to DA neurons. Here we examined the level of VGluT2 upregulation in response to neurotoxins and its impact on postlesional plasticity. We first took advantage of an in vitro neurotoxin model of Parkinson's disease and found that this caused an average 2.5-fold enhancement of Vglut2 mRNA in DA neurons. This could represent a reactivation of a developmental phenotype because using an intersectional genetic lineage-mapping approach, we find that >98% of DA neurons have a VGluT2+ lineage. Expression of VGluT2 was detectable in most DA neurons at embryonic day 11.5 and was localized in developing axons. Finally, compatible with the possibility that enhanced VGluT2 expression in DA neurons promotes axonal outgrowth and reinnervation in the postlesional brain, we observed that DA neurons in female and male mice in which VGluT2 was conditionally removed established fewer striatal connections 7 weeks after a neurotoxin lesion. Thus, we propose here that the developmental expression of VGluT2 in DA neurons can be reactivated at postnatal stages, contributing to postlesional plasticity of dopaminergic axons.SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT A small subset of dopamine neurons in the adult, healthy brain expresses vesicular glutamate transporter 2 (VGluT2) and thus releases glutamate as a second neurotransmitter in the striatum. This neurochemical phenotype appears to be plastic as exposure to neurotoxins, such as 6-OHDA or MPTP, that model certain aspects of Parkinson's disease pathophysiology, boosts VGluT2 expression in surviving dopamine neurons. Here we show that this enhanced VGluT2 expression in dopamine neurons drives axonal outgrowth and contributes to dopamine neuron axonal plasticity in the postlesional brain. A better understanding of the neurochemical changes that occur during the progression of Parkinson's disease pathology will aid the development of novel therapeutic strategies for this disease.

Keywords: Parkinson's; axonal; dopamine; glutamate; reinnervation; sprouting.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Animals, Newborn
  • Axons / physiology
  • Cell Lineage / genetics
  • Cell Survival / genetics
  • Corpus Striatum / embryology
  • Corpus Striatum / growth & development
  • Corpus Striatum / physiology*
  • Dopaminergic Neurons / metabolism*
  • Female
  • MPTP Poisoning / genetics
  • MPTP Poisoning / metabolism
  • Mesencephalon / embryology
  • Mesencephalon / growth & development
  • Mesencephalon / physiology
  • Mice
  • Mice, Knockout
  • Neural Pathways / embryology
  • Neural Pathways / growth & development
  • Neural Pathways / physiology
  • Neurotoxins / toxicity
  • Pregnancy
  • Tyrosine 3-Monooxygenase / genetics
  • Tyrosine 3-Monooxygenase / metabolism
  • Vesicular Glutamate Transport Protein 2 / biosynthesis*
  • Vesicular Glutamate Transport Protein 2 / genetics


  • Neurotoxins
  • Slc17a6 protein, mouse
  • Vesicular Glutamate Transport Protein 2
  • Tyrosine 3-Monooxygenase