GSBS Dissertations and Theses



Publication Date


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Academic Program




First Thesis Advisor

Haley Melikian


Dopamine Transporters, ADHD, Dopamine, Protein Kinase C, Tyrosine Kinase, Retromer, membrane trafficking


Dopamine transporters (DAT) facilitate high-affinity presynaptic dopamine (DA) reuptake in the central nervous system, and are required to constrain extracellular DA levels and maintain presynaptic DAergic tone. DAT is the primary target for addictive and therapeutic psychostimulants, which require DAT binding to elicit reward. DAT availability at presynaptic terminals ensures its proper function, and is dynamically regulated by endocytic trafficking. My thesis research focused on two fundamental questions: 1) what are the molecular mechanisms that control DAT endocytosis? and 2) what are the mechanism(s) that govern DAT’s post-endocytic fate? Using pharmacological and genetic approaches, I discovered that a non-receptor tyrosine kinase, activated by cdc42 kinase 1 (Ack1), stabilizes DAT plasma membrane expression by negatively regulating DAT endocytosis. I found that stimulated DAT endocytosis absolutely requires Ack1 inactivation. Moreover, I was able to restore normal DAT endocytosis to a trafficking dysregulated DAT coding variant identified in an Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) patient via constitutively activating Ack1. To address what mechanisms govern DAT’s post-endocytic fate, I took advantage of a small molecule labeling approach to directly couple fluorophore to the DAT surface population, and subsequently tracked DAT’s temporal-spatial post-endocytic itinerary in immortalized mesencephalic cells. Using this approach, I discovered that the retromer complex mediates DAT recycling and is required to maintain DAT surface levels via a DAT C-terminal PDZ-binding motif. Taken together, these findings shed considerable new light on DAT trafficking mechanisms, and pave the way for future studies examining the role of regulated DAT trafficking in neuropsychiatric disorders.



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