Transcription Factors Phox2a/2b Upregulate Expression of Noradrenergic and Dopaminergic Phenotypes in Aged Rat Brains

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The present study investigated the effects of forced overexpression of Phox2a/2b, two transcription factors, in the locus coeruleus (LC) of aged rats on noradrenergic and dopaminergic phenotypes in brains. Results showed that a significant increase in Phox2a/2b mRNA levels in the LC region was paralleled by marked enhancement in expression of DBH and TH per se. Furthermore, similar increases in TH protein levels were observed in the substantial nigra and striatum, as well as in the hippocampus and frontal cortex. Overexpression of Phox2 genes also significantly increased BrdU-positive cells in the hippocampal dentate gyrus and NE levels in the striatum. Moreover, this manipulation significantly improved the cognition behavior. The in vitro experiments revealed that norepinephrine treatments may increase the transcription of TH gene through the epigenetic action on the TH promoter. The results indicate that Phox2 genes may play an important role in improving the function of the noradrenergic and dopaminergic neurons in aged animals, and regulation of Phox2 gene expression may have therapeutic utility in aging or disorders involving degeneration of noradrenergic neurons.