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Concept: Tryptophan hydroxylase


Serotonin and vitamin D have been proposed to play a role in autism; however, no causal mechanism has been established. Here, we present evidence that vitamin D hormone (calcitriol) activates the transcription of the serotonin-synthesizing gene tryptophan hydroxylase 2 (TPH2) in the brain at a vitamin D response element (VDRE) and represses the transcription of TPH1 in tissues outside the blood-brain barrier at a distinct VDRE. The proposed mechanism explains 4 major characteristics associated with autism: the low concentrations of serotonin in the brain and its elevated concentrations in tissues outside the blood-brain barrier; the low concentrations of the vitamin D hormone precursor 25-hydroxyvitamin D [25(OH)D3]; the high male prevalence of autism; and the presence of maternal antibodies against fetal brain tissue. Two peptide hormones, oxytocin and vasopressin, are also associated with autism and genes encoding the oxytocin-neurophysin I preproprotein, the oxytocin receptor, and the arginine vasopressin receptor contain VDREs for activation. Supplementation with vitamin D and tryptophan is a practical and affordable solution to help prevent autism and possibly ameliorate some symptoms of the disorder.-Patrick, R. P., Ames, B. N. Vitamin D hormone regulates serotonin synthesis. Part 1: relevance for autism.

Concepts: Protein, Vitamin D, Hormone, Receptor, Oxytocin, Vasopressin, Serotonin, Tryptophan hydroxylase


Reductions in function within the serotonin (5HT) neuronal system have long been proposed as etiological factors in depression. Serotonin selective reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are the most common treatment for depression and their therapeutic effect is generally attributed to their ability to increase the synaptic levels of 5HT. Tryptophan hydroxylase 2 (TPH2) is the initial and rate-limiting enzyme in the biosynthetic pathway of 5HT in the CNS and losses in its catalytic activity lead to reductions in 5HT production and release. The time differential between the onset of 5HT reuptake inhibition by SSRIs (minutes) and onset of their anti-depressant efficacy (weeks to months), when considered with their overall poor therapeutic effectiveness, has cast some doubt on the role of 5HT in depression. Mice lacking the gene for TPH2 are genetically depleted of brain 5HT and were tested for a depression-like behavioral phenotype using a battery of valid tests for affective-like disorders in animals. The behavior of TPH2-/- mice on the sucrose preference test, tail suspension test and forced swim test and their responses in the unpredictable chronic mild stress and learned helplessness paradigms was the same as wild-type controls. While TPH2-/- mice as a group were not responsive to SSRIs, a subset responded to treatment with SSRIs in the same manner as wild-type controls with significant reductions in immobility time on the tail suspension test, indicative of antidepressant drug effects. The behavioral phenotype of the TPH2-/- mouse questions the role of 5HT in depression. Furthermore, the TPH2-/- mouse may serve as a useful model in the search for new medications that have therapeutic targets for depression that are outside of the 5HT neuronal system.

Concepts: Gene, Serotonin, Antidepressant, Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor, Tryptophan hydroxylase, Sertraline, Tricyclic antidepressant, Fluoxetine


It was reported recently that male mice lacking brain serotonin (5-HT) lose their preference for females (Liu et al., 2011, Nature, 472, 95-100), suggesting a role for 5-HT signaling in sexual preference. Regulation of sex preference by 5-HT lies outside of the well established roles in this behavior established for the vomeronasal organ (VNO) and the main olfactory epithelium (MOE). Presently, mice with a null mutation in the gene for tryptophan hydroxylase 2 (TPH2), which are depleted of brain 5-HT, were tested for sexual preference. When presented with inanimate (urine scents from male or estrous female) or animate (male or female mouse in estrus) sexual stimuli, TPH2-/- males show a clear preference for female over male stimuli. When a TPH2-/- male is offered the simultaneous choice between an estrous female and a male mouse, no sexual preference is expressed. However, when confounding behaviors that are seen among 3 mice in the same cage are controlled, TPH2-/- mice, like their TPH2+/+ counterparts, express a clear preference for female mice. Female TPH2-/- mice are preferred by males over TPH2+/+ females but this does not lead to increased pregnancy success. In fact, if one or both partners in a mating pair are TPH2-/- in genotype, pregnancy success rates are significantly decreased. Finally, expression of the VNO-specific cation channel TRPC2 and of CNGA2 in the MOE of TPH2-/- mice is normal, consistent with behavioral findings that sexual preference of TPH2-/- males for females is intact. In conclusion, 5-HT signaling in brain does not determine sexual preference in male mice. The use of pharmacological agents that are non-selective for the 5-HT neuronal system and that have serious adverse effects may have contributed historically to the stance that 5-HT regulates sexual behavior, including sex partner preference.

Concepts: Male, Reproduction, Female, Gender, Sex, Gamete, Mouse, Tryptophan hydroxylase


Voluntary wheel running has long been known to induce precursor cell proliferation in adult hippocampal neurogenesis in rodents. However, mechanisms that couple activity with the promitotic effect are not yet fully understood. Using tryptophan hydroxylase (TPH) 2 deficient (Tph2-deficient) mice that lack brain serotonin, we explored the relationship between serotonin signaling and exercise-induced neurogenesis. Surprisingly, Tph2-deficient mice exhibit normal baseline hippocampal neurogenesis but impaired activity-induced proliferation. Our data demonstrate that the proproliferative effect of running requires the release of central serotonin in young-adult and aged mice. Lack of brain serotonin further results in alterations at the stage of Sox2-positive precursor cells, suggesting physiological adaptations to changes in serotonin supply to maintain homeostasis in the neurogenic niche. We conclude that serotonin plays a direct and acute regulatory role in activity-dependent hippocampal neurogenesis. The understanding of exercise-induced neurogenesis might offer preventive but also therapeutic opportunities in depression and age-related cognitive decline.

Concepts: Neuron, Brain, Cognition, Hippocampus, Serotonin, Knowledge, Tryptophan hydroxylase, Tryptophan


Several neurological and behavioral dysfunctions have been reported in animals exposed to bisphenol A (BPA). However, little is known about the impact of adult exposure to BPA on brain physiopathology. Here, we focused on prefrontal cortex (PFC) of rats, because it is an important area for cognitive control, complex behaviors and is altered in many psychopathologies. Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) and serotonin (5-HT) systems are essential for PFC function. Therefore, we examined the effects of adult exposure to BPA on 5α-Reductase (5α-R) and cytochrome P450 aromatase (P450arom), enzymes that synthesize GABAA receptor modulators, and tryptophan hydroxylase (Tph), the rate-limiting enzyme in 5-HT biosynthesis. To gain better understanding of BPA’s action in the adult PFC, 84 genes involved in neurotoxicity were also analysed. Adult male and female rats were subcutaneously injected for 4 days with 50 µg/kg/day, the current reference safe dose for BPA. mRNA and protein levels of 5α-R, P450arom and Tph were quantified by real-time RT-PCR and Western blot. Genes linked to neurotoxicity were analyzed by PCR-Array technology. Adult exposure to BPA increased both P450arom and Tph2 expression in PFC of male and female, but decreased 5α-R1 expression in female. Moreover, we identified 17 genes related to PFC functions such as synaptic plasticity and memory, as potential targets of BPA. Our results provided new insights on the molecular mechanisms underlying BPA action in the physiopathology of PFC, but also raise the question about the safety of short-term exposure to it in the adulthood.

Concepts: Protein, Brain, Molecular biology, Cytochrome P450, Bisphenol A, Serotonin, Tryptophan hydroxylase, Tryptophan


Serotonin (5-HT) is a crucial neuromodulator linked to many psychiatric disorders. However, after more than 60 years of study, its role in behavior remains poorly understood, in part because of a lack of methods to target 5-HT synthesis specifically in the adult brain. Here, we have developed a genetic approach that reproducibly achieves near-complete elimination of 5-HT synthesis from the adult ascending 5-HT system by stereotaxic injection of an adeno-associated virus expressing Cre recombinase (AAV-Cre) into the midbrain/pons of mice carrying a loxP-conditional tryptophan hydroxylase 2 (Tph2) allele. We investigated the behavioral effects of deficient brain 5-HT synthesis and discovered a unique composite phenotype. Surprisingly, adult 5-HT deficiency did not affect anxiety-like behavior, but resulted in a robust hyperactivity phenotype in novel and home cage environments. Moreover, loss of 5-HT led to an altered pattern of circadian behavior characterized by an advance in the onset and a delay in the offset of daily activity, thus revealing a requirement for adult 5-HT in the control of daily activity patterns. Notably, after normalizing for hyperactivity, we found that the normal prolonged break in nocturnal activity (siesta), a period of rapid eye movement (REM) and non-REM sleep, was absent in all animals in which 5-HT deficiency was verified. Our findings identify adult 5-HT as a requirement for siestas, implicate adult 5-HT in sleep-wake homeostasis, and highlight the importance of our adult-specific 5-HT-synthesis-targeting approach in understanding 5-HT’s role in controlling behavior.

Concepts: Psychology, Gene, Sleep, Serotonin, Human behavior, Tryptophan hydroxylase, Tryptophan, TPH2


Mutations in Phenylalanine Hydroxylase (PAH) gene cause phenylketonuria. Sapropterin (BH4), the enzyme cofactor, is an important therapeutical strategy in phenylketonuria. However, PAH is a highly polymorphic gene and it is difficult to identify BH4-responsive genotypes. We seek here to improve prediction of BH4-responsiveness through comparison of genotypes, BH4-loading test, predictions of responsiveness according to the literature and types and locations of mutations.

Concepts: DNA, Allele, Enzyme, Phenylketonuria, Tryptophan hydroxylase, Cofactor, Tetrahydrobiopterin, Phenylalanine hydroxylase


Increasing evidence has shown that prenatal stress (PS) could cause depression-like behavior in the offspring, which is sex-specific. However, the underlying mechanisms remain to be elucidated. This study is to investigate the involvement of tryptophan hydroxylase 2 (Tph2) H3K9 acetylation (H3K9ac) modification on PS-induced depression-like behavior in juvenile offspring rats (JOR). PS models were established, with or without trichostatin A (TSA) treatment. Animal behavior was assessed by the sucrose preference test (SPT) and forced swimming test (FST). The mRNA and protein expression levels of TPH2 in the dorsal raphenucleus (DRN), hippocampus, and prefrontal cortex were detected with quantitative real-time PCR and Western blot analysis, respectively. The Tph2 H3K9ac levels in the hippocampus were also analyzed. SPT and FST showed significantly reduced sucrose preference and significantly prolonged immobility in PS-induced male juvenile offspring rats (MJOR). Moreover, the mRNA and protein expression levels of TPH2 in the DRN and hippocampus were significantly declined, while the hippocampal Tph2 H3K9ac levels were significantly declined in the PS-induced MJOR. Furthermore, the PS-induced effects in MJOR could be reversed by the microinjection of TSA. However, no significant effects were observed for the female juvenile offspring rats (FJOR). In conclusion, our results showed that the Tph2 H3K9ac modification is only involved in PS-induced depression-like behavior in MJOR, in a sex specific manner. These findings might contrite to the understanding of the disease pathogenesis and clinical treatment in future.

Concepts: Gene expression, Brain, Molecular biology, Western blot, Cerebrum, Limbic system, Tryptophan hydroxylase, TPH2


The first step in serotonin (5-HT) biosynthesis is catalyzed by tryptophan hydroxylase (TPH). There are two independent sources of the monoamine that have distinct functions: first, the TPH1-expressing enterochromaffin cells (ECs) of the gut; second, TPH2-expressing serotonergic neurons. TPH1-deficient mice revealed that peripheral 5-HT plays important roles in platelet function and in inflammatory and fibrotic diseases of gut, pancreas, lung, and liver. Therefore, TPH inhibitors were developed which cannot pass the blood-brain barrier to specifically block peripheral 5-HT synthesis. They showed therapeutic efficacy in several rodent disease models, and telotristat ethyl is the first TPH inhibitor to be approved for the treatment of carcinoid syndrome. We review this development and discuss further therapeutic options for these compounds.

Concepts: Platelet, Serotonin, Tryptophan hydroxylase, TPH1, Tryptophan, Carcinoid syndrome, Phenylalanine hydroxylase, Enterochromaffin cell


A role for 5-hydroxytryptamine (5-HT) or serotonin in sleep has been known for decades but was challenged by recent papers which concluded that the apparent sleep phenotype was secondary to defective thermoregulation. Those studies used mice lacking serotonergic neurons resulting from the loss of function mutations in the gene encoding the LIM homeobox transcription factor 1 (Lmx1b). Here we show that, while Lmx1b mutants failed to keep the physiological body temperature, they exhibited more activities at the room and elevated temperatures. More importantly, we used mice deficient in the gene encoding tryptophan hydroxylase 2 (Tph2) which could not synthesize 5-HT in the brain. Tph2 mutants were capable of thermoregulation and keeping physiological body temperature when the environmental temperature was reduced and exhibited significantly more activities at both the room and elevated temperatures. Electroencephalographic (EEG) recording also showed decreased sleep in Tph2 deficient mice. Our results indicate that 5-HT is important for sleep regulation but not thermoregulation.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Brain, Sleep, Electroencephalography, Serotonin, Tryptophan hydroxylase, Tryptophan