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J Neurosci. 2002 Jun 15;22(12):5042-54.

D1 dopamine receptor supersensitivity in the dopamine-depleted striatum results from a switch in the regulation of ERK1/2/MAP kinase.

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Laboratory of Systems Neuroscience, National Institute of Mental Health, Bethesda, Maryland 20892-4075, USA.


Dopamine effects in the striatum are mediated principally through the D1 and D2 dopamine receptor subtypes, which are segregated to the direct and indirect striatal projection neurons. After degeneration of the nigrostriatal dopamine system, direct pathway neurons display a supersensitive response to D1 dopamine receptor agonists, which is demonstrated by the induction of immediate early genes (IEGs), such as c-fos. Here we show, using analysis of receptor-mediated signal transduction, including protein phosphorylation and induction of IEGs, that D1 dopamine receptor supersensitivity is attributable to a switch to ERK1/2/MAP kinase (extracellular signal-regulated kinase/mitogen-activated protein kinase) in direct pathway neurons. Normally, in the dopamine-intact striatum, activation of ERK1/2/MAP kinase is shown to be restricted to indirect and not direct pathway neurons in response to stimulation of corticostriatal afferents. Moreover, in the dopamine-intact striatum, treatment with full D1 dopamine receptor agonists or stimulation of nigrostriatal dopaminergic afferents, both of which result in the induction of IEGs in direct striatal projection neurons, does not activate ERK1/2/MAP kinase. However, after degeneration of the nigrostriatal dopaminergic pathway, ERK1/2/MAP kinase is activated in direct pathway neurons in response to D1 dopamine receptor agonists either alone or when combined with stimulation of corticostriatal afferents. Inhibitors of MEK (MAP kinase kinase), which is responsible for phosphorylation of ERK1/2/MAP kinase, blocks D1 dopamine receptor agonist activation of ERK1/2/MAP kinase in the dopamine-depleted striatum, as well as the supersensitive induction of IEGs. These results demonstrate that dopamine input to the striatum maintains distinct forms of protein kinase-mediated gene regulation in the direct and indirect striatal projection neurons.

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