Unexpected expression of α- and β-globin in mesencephalic dopaminergic neurons and glial cells

Marta Biagioli, Milena Pinto, Daniela Cesselli, Marta Zaninello, Dejan Lazarevic, Paola Roncaglia, Roberto Simone, Christina Vlachouli, Charles Plessy, Nicolas Bertin, Antonio Beltrami, Kazuto Kobayashi, Vittorio Gallo, Claudio Santoro, Isidro Ferrer, Stefano Rivella, Carlo Alberto Beltrami, Piero Carninci, Elio Raviola, Stefano Gustincich

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The mesencephalic dopaminergic (mDA) cell system is composed of two major groups of projecting cells in the substantia nigra (SN) (A9 neurons) and the ventral tegmental area (VTA) (A10 cells). A9 neurons form the nigrostriatal pathway and are involved in regulating voluntary movements and postural reflexes. Their selective degeneration leads to Parkinson's disease. Here, we report that gene expression analysis of A9 dopaminergic neurons (DA) identifies transcripts for α- and β-chains of hemoglobin (Hb). Globin immunoreactivity decorates the majority of A9 DA, a subpopulation of cortical and hippocampal astrocytes and mature oligodendrocytes. This pattern of expression was confirmed in different mouse strains and in rat and human. We show that Hb is expressed in the SN of human postmortem brain. By microarray analysis of dopaminergic cell lines overexpressing α- and β-globin chains, changes in genes involved in O2 homeostasis and oxidative phopshorylation were observed, linking Hb expression to mitochondrial function. Our data suggest that the most famed oxygen-carrying globin is not exclusively restricted to the blood, but it may play a role in the normal physiology of the brain and neurodegenerative diseases.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)15454-15459
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number36
Publication statusPublished - Sep 8 2009


  • Astrocytes
  • Hemoglobin
  • Oligodendrocytes
  • Oxidative phosphorylation
  • Parkinson

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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