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BMC Neurosci. 2011 May 20;12:46. doi: 10.1186/1471-2202-12-46.

An evolutionary conserved region (ECR) in the human dopamine receptor D4 gene supports reporter gene expression in primary cultures derived from the rat cortex.

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Institute of Translational Medicine, University of Liverpool, Ashton Street, Liverpool, L69 3GE, UK.



Detecting functional variants contributing to diversity of behaviour is crucial for dissecting genetics of complex behaviours. At a molecular level, characterisation of variation in exons has been studied as they are easily identified in the current genome annotation although the functional consequences are less well understood; however, it has been difficult to prioritise regions of non-coding DNA in which genetic variation could also have significant functional consequences. Comparison of multiple vertebrate genomes has allowed the identification of non-coding evolutionary conserved regions (ECRs), in which the degree of conservation can be comparable with exonic regions suggesting functional significance.


We identified ECRs at the dopamine receptor D4 gene locus, an important gene for human behaviours. The most conserved non-coding ECR (D4ECR1) supported high reporter gene expression in primary cultures derived from neonate rat frontal cortex. Computer aided analysis of the sequence of the D4ECR1 indicated the potential transcription factors that could modulate its function. D4ECR1 contained multiple consensus sequences for binding the transcription factor Sp1, a factor previously implicated in DRD4 expression. Co-transfection experiments demonstrated that overexpression of Sp1 significantly decreased the activity of the D4ECR1 in vitro.


Bioinformatic analysis complemented by functional analysis of the DRD4 gene locus has identified a) a strong enhancer that functions in neurons and b) a transcription factor that may modulate the function of that enhancer.

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