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Mol Psychiatry. 2009 Sep;14(9):894-905. doi: 10.1038/mp.2008.43. Epub 2008 Apr 22.

Expression of alpha-synuclein is increased in the hippocampus of rats with high levels of innate anxiety.

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Department of Pharmacology, Biomedical Sciences Institute, University of Sao Paulo, Cidade Universitária, 05508-900, Sao Paulo, SP, Brazil.


A genomic region neighboring the alpha-synuclein gene, on rat chromosome 4, has been associated with anxiety- and alcohol-related behaviors in different rat strains. In this study, we have investigated potential molecular and physiological links between alpha-synuclein and the behavioral differences observed between Lewis (LEW) and Spontaneously Hypertensive (SHR) inbred rats, a genetic model of anxiety. As expected, LEW rats appeared more fearful than SHR rats in three anxiety models: open field, elevated plus maze and light/dark box. Moreover, LEW rats displayed a higher preference for alcohol and consumed higher quantities of alcohol than SHR rats. alpha-Synuclein mRNA and protein concentrations were higher in the hippocampus, but not the hypothalamus of LEW rats. This result inversely correlated with differences in dopamine turnover in the hippocampus of LEW and SHR rats, supporting the hypothesis that alpha-synuclein is important in the downregulation of dopamine neurotransmission. A novel single nucleotide polymorphism was identified in the 3'-untranslated region (3'-UTR) of the alpha-synuclein cDNA between these two rat strains. Plasmid constructs based on the LEW 3'-UTR sequence displayed increased expression of a reporter gene in transiently transfected PC12 cells, in accordance with in-vivo findings, suggesting that this nucleotide exchange might participate in the differential expression of alpha-synuclein between LEW and SHR rats. These results are consistent with a novel role for alpha-synuclein in modulating rat anxiety-like behaviors, possibly through dopaminergic mechanisms. Since the behavioral and genetic differences between these two strains are the product of independent evolutionary histories, the possibility that polymorphisms in the alpha-synuclein gene may be associated with vulnerability to anxiety-related disorders in humans requires further investigation.

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