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 VGluT21 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 7weeks 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.
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