Preserved Motility after Neonatal Dopaminergic Lesion Relates to Hyperexcitability of Direct Pathway Medium Spiny Neurons

J Neurosci. 2022 Nov 23;42(47):8767-8779. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.1992-21.2022. Epub 2022 Oct 14.


In Parkinson's disease patients and rodent models, dopaminergic neuron loss (DAN) results in severe motor disabilities. In contrast, general motility is preserved after early postnatal DAN loss in rodents. Here we used mice of both sexes to show that the preserved motility observed after early DAN loss depends on functional changes taking place in medium spiny neurons (MSN) of the dorsomedial striatum (DMS) that belong to the direct pathway (dMSN). Previous animal model studies showed that adult loss of dopaminergic input depresses dMSN response to cortical input, which likely contributes to Parkinson's disease motor impairments. However, the response of DMS-dMSN to their preferred medial PFC input is preserved after neonatal DAN loss as shown by in vivo studies. Moreover, their response to inputs from adjacent cortical areas is increased, resulting in reduced cortical inputs selectivity. Additional ex vivo studies show that membrane excitability increases in dMSN. Furthermore, chemogenetic inhibition of DMS-dMSN has a more marked inhibitory effect on general motility in lesioned mice than in their control littermates, indicating that expression of normal levels of locomotion and general motility depend on dMSN activity after early DAN loss. Contrastingly, DMS-dMSN inhibition did not ameliorate a characteristic phenotype of the DAN-lesioned animals in a marble burying task demanding higher behavioral control. Thus, increased dMSN excitability likely promoting changes in corticostriatal functional connectivity may contribute to the distinctive behavioral phenotype emerging after developmental DAN loss, with implications for our understanding of the age-dependent effects of forebrain dopamine depletion and neurodevelopment disorders.SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT The loss of striatal dopamine in the adult brain leads to life-threatening motor impairments. However, general motility remains largely unaffected after its early postnatal loss. Here, we show that the high responsiveness to cortical input of striatal neurons belonging to the direct basal ganglia pathway, crucial for proper motor functioning, is preserved after early dopamine neuron loss, in parallel with an increase in these cells' membrane excitability. Chemogenetic inhibition studies show that the preserved motility depends on this direct pathway hyperexcitability/hyperconnectivity, while other phenotypes characteristic of this condition remained unaltered despite the dMSN inhibition. This insight has implications for our understanding of the mechanism underlying the behavioral impairments observed in neuropsychiatric conditions linked to early dopaminergic hypofunction.

Keywords: corticostriatal system; development; dopamine; in vivo recordings; medium spiny neurons; striatum.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Basal Ganglia
  • Corpus Striatum / metabolism
  • Dopamine* / metabolism
  • Dopaminergic Neurons / metabolism
  • Female
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Parkinson Disease* / pathology


  • Dopamine