Publication Date


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Academic Program




First Thesis Advisor

Haley Melikian


dopamine, dopamine transporter, cocaine, protein kinase C


Dopamine (DA) is central to movement, reward, learning, sleep, and anxiety. The dopamine transporter (DAT) spatially and temporally controls extracellular dopamine levels by taking DA back up into the presynaptic neuron. Multiple lines of evidence from studies using pharmacological DAT blockade or genetic DAT deletion demonstrate that DAT availability at the plasma membrane is required for maintenance of homeostatic DA levels and DA tone. Therefore, intrinsic mechanisms that regulate the transporter’s availability at the plasma membrane may directly impact downstream DA signaling cascades and DA-dependent behavior. Acute, regulated DAT internalization in response to protein kinase C (PKC) activation has been well documented, however the physiological importance of this mechanism remains untested. Due to DAT’s critical role in regulating DA levels, It is essential to understand mechanisms that acutely regulate DAT function and surface expression, and further, how these mechanisms contribute to DA related behaviors.

DAT has intracellular amino and carboxy termini, which contain domains for transporter phosphorylation, recruitment to and from the plasma membrane, and sites for protein-protein interactions. To test whether these domains work synergistically for DAT function and regulated endocytosis I made DAT/SERT chimeras, in which I switched DAT’s amino, carboxy, or both termini with that of SERT, a homologous transporter with highly divergent intracellular domains. I demonstrated that DAT’s amino and carboxy termini synergistically contribute to substrate and select competitive inhibitor affinities. Additionally, I demonstrated that the amino terminus is required for PKC-stimulated DAT endocytosis, and that both N- and C-termini are required for downstream Ack1-dependent regulation of DAT endocytosis.

To test the physiological importance of PKC-stimulated DAT endocytosis in vivo, I knocked down Rin, a GTPase required for PKC-stimulated DAT trafficking, in mouse DA neurons. This study was the first to achieve AAV-mediated, conditional, and inducible gene silencing in neurons. Using this AAV approach, I demonstrated a critical role for Rin GTPase signaling and DAT trafficking in both anxiety and locomotor response to cocaine.

Taken together, this thesis 1) adds to the understanding of DAT functional and endocytic mechanisms and 2) is the first to report the physiological impact of Rin signaling and DAT endocytosis in DA behavior.



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