A WNT1-regulated developmental gene cascade prevents dopaminergic neurodegeneration in adult En1+/- mice

Jingzhong Zhang, Sebastian Götz, Daniela M. Vogt Weisenhorn, Antonio Simeone, Wolfgang Wurst, Nilima Prakash

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The protracted and age-dependent degeneration of dopamine (DA)-producing neurons of the Substantia nigra pars compacta (SNc) and ventral tegmental area (VTA) in the mammalian midbrain is a hallmark of human Parkinson's Disease (PD) and of certain genetic mouse models of PD, such as mice heterozygous for the homeodomain transcription factor Engrailed 1 (. En1+/- mice). Neurotoxin-based animal models of PD, in contrast, are characterized by the fast and partly reversible degeneration of the SNc and VTA DA neurons. The secreted protein WNT1 was previously shown to be strongly induced in the neurotoxin-injured adult ventral midbrain (VM), and to protect the SNc and VTA DA neurons from cell death in this context. We demonstrate here that the sustained and ectopic expression of Wnt1 in the SNc and VTA DA neurons of En1+/Wnt1 mice also protected these genetically affected En1 heterozygote (. En1+/-) neurons from their premature degeneration in the adult mouse VM. We identified a developmental gene cascade that is up-regulated in the adult En1+/Wnt1 VM, including the direct WNT1/β-catenin signaling targets Lef1, Lmx1a, Fgf20 and Dkk3, as well as the indirect targets Pitx3 (activated by LMX1A) and Bdnf (activated by PITX3). We also show that the secreted neurotrophin BDNF and the secreted WNT modulator DKK3, but not the secreted growth factor FGF20, increased the survival of En1 mutant dopaminergic neurons in vitro. The WNT1-mediated signaling pathway and its downstream targets BDNF and DKK3 might thus provide a useful means to treat certain genetic and environmental (neurotoxic) forms of human PD.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)32-45
Number of pages14
JournalNeurobiology of Disease
Publication statusPublished - Oct 1 2015


  • Bdnf
  • Dkk3
  • Dopamine neuron
  • Fgf20
  • Lef1
  • Lmx1a
  • Neuroprotection
  • Parkinson's disease
  • Pitx3
  • Survival

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neurology


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