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Degeneration of the noradrenergic locus coeruleus (LC) in aging and neurodegenerative diseases is well documented. Slowing or reversing this effect may have therapeutic implications. Phox2a and Phox2b are homeodomain transcriptional factors that function as determinants of the noradrenergic phenotype during embryogenesis. In the present study, recombinant lentiviral eGFP-Phox2a and -Phox2b (vPhox2a and vPhox2b) were constructed to study the effects of Phox2a/2b over-expression on dopamine β-hydroxylase (DBH) and norepinephrine transporter (NET) levels in central noradrenergic neurons. Microinjection of vPhox2 into the LC of adult rats significantly increased Phox2 mRNA levels in the LC region. Over-expression of either Phox2a or Phox2b in the LC was paralleled by significant increases in mRNA and protein levels of DBH and NET in the LC. Similar increases in DBH and NET protein levels were observed in the hippocampus following vPhox2 microinjection. In the frontal cortex, only NET protein levels were significantly increased by vPhox2 microinjection. Over-expression of Phox2 genes resulted in a significant increase in BrdU-positive cells in the hippocampal dentate gyrus. The present study demonstrates an upregulatory effect of Phox2a and Phox2b on the expression of DBH and NET in noradrenergic neurons of rat brains, an effect not previously shown in adult animals. Phox2 genes may play an important role in maintaining the function of the noradrenergic neurons after birth, and regulation of Phox2 gene expression may have therapeutic utility in aging or disorders involving degeneration of noradrenergic neurons.

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This document is an author manuscript from PMC. The publisher's final edited version of this article is available at Neuroscience.