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Genetics. 2003 Feb;163(2):571-80.

Characterization of Caenorhabditis elegans homologs of the Down syndrome candidate gene DYRK1A.

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Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biophysics, Center for Neurobiology and Behavior, Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, New York, New York 10032, USA.


The pathology of trisomy 21/Down syndrome includes cognitive and memory deficits. Increased expression of the dual-specificity protein kinase DYRK1A kinase (DYRK1A) appears to play a significant role in the neuropathology of Down syndrome. To shed light on the cellular role of DYRK1A and related genes we identified three DYRK/minibrain-like genes in the genome sequence of Caenorhabditis elegans, termed mbk-1, mbk-2, and hpk-1. We found these genes to be widely expressed and to localize to distinct subcellular compartments. We isolated deletion alleles in all three genes and show that loss of mbk-1, the gene most closely related to DYRK1A, causes no obvious defects, while another gene, mbk-2, is essential for viability. The overexpression of DYRK1A in Down syndrome led us to examine the effects of overexpression of its C. elegans ortholog mbk-1. We found that animals containing additional copies of the mbk-1 gene display behavioral defects in chemotaxis toward volatile chemoattractants and that the extent of these defects correlates with mbk-1 gene dosage. Using tissue-specific and inducible promoters, we show that additional copies of mbk-1 can impair olfaction cell-autonomously in mature, fully differentiated neurons and that this impairment is reversible. Our results suggest that increased gene dosage of human DYRK1A in trisomy 21 may disrupt the function of fully differentiated neurons and that this disruption is reversible.

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