Dopamine biosynthesis is selectively abolished in substantia nigra/ventral tegmental area but not in hypothalamic neurons in mice with targeted disruption of the Nurr1 gene

Mol Cell Neurosci. 1998 May;11(1-2):36-46. doi: 10.1006/mcne.1998.0673.


To ascertain the function of an orphan nuclear receptor Nurr1, a transcription factor belonging to a large gene family that includes receptors for steroids, retinoids, and thyroid hormone, we generated Nurr1-null mice by homologous recombination. Mice, heterozygous for a single mutated Nurr1 allele, appear normal, whereas mice homozygous for the null allele die within 24 h after birth. Dopamine (DA) was absent in the substantia nigra (SN) and ventral tegmental area (VTA) of Nurr1-null mice, consistent with absent tyrosine hydroxylase (TH), L-aromatic amino acid decarboxylase, and other DA neuron markers. TH immunoreactivity and mRNA expression in hypothalamic, olfactory, and lower brain stem regions were unaffected. L-Dihydroxyphenylalanine treatments, whether given to the pregnant dams or to the newborns, failed to rescue the Nurr1-null mice. We were unable to discern differences between null and wild-type mice in the cellularity, presence of neurons, or axonal projections to the SN and VTA. These findings provide evidence for a new mechanism of DA depletion in vivo and suggest a unique role for Nurr1 in fetal development and/or postnatal survival.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biomarkers
  • Brain Chemistry / genetics
  • DNA-Binding Proteins*
  • Dopamine / biosynthesis*
  • Dopamine / deficiency
  • Dopamine / physiology
  • Exons
  • Female
  • Heterozygote
  • Hypothalamus / metabolism*
  • Levodopa / pharmacology
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Mice, Neurologic Mutants
  • Mutagenesis, Insertional
  • Neurons / metabolism*
  • Nuclear Receptor Subfamily 4, Group A, Member 2
  • Phenotype
  • Pregnancy
  • RNA, Messenger / analysis
  • Substantia Nigra / metabolism*
  • Substantia Nigra / pathology
  • Transcription Factors / deficiency
  • Transcription Factors / genetics*
  • Ventral Tegmental Area / metabolism*
  • Ventral Tegmental Area / pathology


  • Biomarkers
  • DNA-Binding Proteins
  • Nr4a2 protein, mouse
  • Nuclear Receptor Subfamily 4, Group A, Member 2
  • RNA, Messenger
  • Transcription Factors
  • Levodopa
  • Dopamine