Characterizing enteric neurons in dopamine transporter (DAT)-Cre reporter mice reveals dopaminergic subtypes with dual-transmitter content

Eur J Neurosci. 2024 May;59(10):2465-2482. doi: 10.1111/ejn.16307. Epub 2024 Mar 15.


The enteric nervous system (ENS) comprises a complex network of neurons whereby a subset appears to be dopaminergic although the characteristics, roles, and implications in disease are less understood. Most investigations relating to enteric dopamine (DA) neurons rely on immunoreactivity to tyrosine hydroxylase (TH)-the rate-limiting enzyme in the production of DA. However, TH immunoreactivity is likely to provide an incomplete picture. This study herein provides a comprehensive characterization of DA neurons in the gut using a reporter mouse line, expressing a fluorescent protein (tdTomato) under control of the DA transporter (DAT) promoter. Our findings confirm a unique localization of DA neurons in the gut and unveil the discrete subtypes of DA neurons in this organ, which we characterized using both immunofluorescence and single-cell transcriptomics, as well as validated using in situ hybridization. We observed distinct subtypes of DAT-tdTomato neurons expressing co-transmitters and modulators across both plexuses; some of them likely co-releasing acetylcholine, while others were positive for a slew of canonical DAergic markers (TH, VMAT2 and GIRK2). Interestingly, we uncovered a seemingly novel population of DA neurons unique to the ENS which was ChAT/DAT-tdTomato-immunoreactive and expressed Grp, Calcb, and Sst. Given the clear heterogeneity of DAergic gut neurons, further investigation is warranted to define their functional signatures and decipher their implication in disease.

Keywords: Parkinson's disease; dopamine; enteric nervous system; gut; single‐cell RNA sequencing.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Dopamine / metabolism
  • Dopamine Plasma Membrane Transport Proteins* / genetics
  • Dopamine Plasma Membrane Transport Proteins* / metabolism
  • Dopaminergic Neurons* / metabolism
  • Enteric Nervous System* / cytology
  • Enteric Nervous System* / metabolism
  • Luminescent Proteins / genetics
  • Luminescent Proteins / metabolism
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Transgenic
  • Tyrosine 3-Monooxygenase / metabolism
  • Vesicular Monoamine Transport Proteins / genetics
  • Vesicular Monoamine Transport Proteins / metabolism