Interaction of genetic and environmental factors in a Drosophila parkinsonism model

Anathbandhu Chaudhuri, Kevin Bowling, Christopher Funderburk, Hakeem Lawal, Arati Inamdar, Zhe Wang, Janis M. O'Donnell

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164 Scopus citations


Catastrophic loss of dopaminergic neurons is a hallmark of Parkinson's disease. Despite the recent identification of genes associated with familial parkinsonism, the etiology of most Parkinson's disease cases is not understood. Environmental toxins, such as the herbicide paraquat, appear to be risk factors, and it has been proposed that susceptibility is influenced by genetic background. The genetic model organism Drosophila is an advantageous system for the identification of genetic susceptibility factors. Genes that affect dopamine homeostasis are candidate susceptibility factors, because dopamine itself has been implicated in neuron damage. We find that paraquat can replicate a broad spectrum of parkinsonian behavioral symptoms in Drosophila that are associated with loss of specific subsets of dopaminergic neurons. In parallel with epidemiological studies that show an increased incidence of Parkinson's disease in males, male Drosophila exhibit paraquat symptoms earlier than females. We then tested the hypothesis that variation in dopamine-regulating genes, including those that regulate tetrahydrobiopterin, a requisite cofactor in dopamine synthesis, can alter susceptibility to paraquat-induced oxidative damage. Drosophila mutant strains that have increased or decreased dopamine and tetrahydrobiopterin production exhibit variation in susceptibility to paraquat. Surprisingly, protection against the neurotoxicity of paraquat is conferred by mutations that elevate dopamine pathway function, whereas mutations that diminish dopamine pools increase susceptibility. We also find that loss-of-function mutations in a negative regulator of dopamine production, Catecholamines-up, delay the onset of neurological symptoms, dopaminergic neuron death, and morbidity during paraquat exposure but confer sensitivity to hydrogen peroxide.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2457-2467
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Neuroscience
Issue number10
StatePublished - Mar 7 2007


  • Dopamine regulation
  • Dopaminergic neurons
  • Environment
  • Neurodegeneration
  • Paraquat
  • Parkinson's disease


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