There is a growing body of evidence to suggest that mood disorders, such as bipolar disorder, may be associated with disruptions in circadian rhythms. Previous work in our lab has shown that mice with a mutation in their Clock gene, a critical component of the core circadian machinery, display a behavioral phenotype similar to human patients in the manic phase of bipolar disorder. Importantly, when a functional Clock is introduced into the Ventral Tegmental Area (VTA), this regional rescue is sufficient to restore some of the behaviors back to wild type levels offering an important clue as to where Clock function may be important for modulating mood-related behaviors. The VTA is an important brain region of the limbic dopaminergic circuit providing projections to brain regions such as the Nucleus Accumbens (NAc). Understanding how circadian genes may interact with the dopamine system to regulate mood and reward related behaviors is critical in designing new treatments for affective disorders. This proposal seeks to characterize this interaction using the Clock mutant mice as a model of mania.
In specific aim 1, we plan to determine the effects of disruption of Clock gene function on the rhythmic expression patterns of TH in the VTA and the NAc. We have preliminary evidence suggesting the dopaminergic system may be dysregulated in the Clock mutant mice. We will examine both the diurnal and circadian rhythms by assaying gene expression over six time points under both 12 hour light-dark (LD) and constant darkness (DD) conditions. Gene expression changes may or may not be mirrored by changes at the protein level, therefore we will assay for these alterations in the protein expression of Tyrosine Hydroxylase (TH) and p-TH (ser 31) by western blot. We will also examine the total levels of striatal dopamine by high performance liquid chromatography. We will repeat these experiments in the presence of lithium to determine whether molecular alterations are rescued by the treatment as we have observed with the behavioral changes in the Clock mutants.
In specific aim 2, we will try to determine if the Clock mutation alters the regulation of the TH gene and whether the TH promoter is a target of lithium's action. First, we will assay for changes in rhythmic gene expression of transcription factors Clock, Bmal1, and Creb which are implicated in regulation of TH transcription. Additionally, we will investigate changes in the protein levels of CLOCK, BMAL1, CREB, and p-CREB (ser 133) over six time points. We will also directly examine binding at the TH promoter by performing Chromatin Immunoprecipitation assays using antibodies specific for CLOCK, BMAL1, and CREB. These experiments will be performed both with and without lithium treatment to determine if the drug alters activity at the TH promoter in the Clock mutant mice.
In specific aim 3, we plan to establish a role for dopamine in the development of the manic-like behaviors of the Clock mutant mice. We will employ two different methods to manipulate the dopamine system in an effort to modulate the behavior of the Clock mutants. First, we will systemically administer Alpha-methyl-p-tyrosine to inhibit TH activity and decrease dopamine levels followed by a battery of behavioral experiments including locomotor activity, anxiety, and depression-related behaviors. We will also manipulate the firing rate of VTA neurons by delivering a K+ channel virus, HSV Kir2.1, directly into the VTA. This construct has been previously published and verified. These animals will similarly be tested for their mood-related behaviors.
The circadian clock is increasingly being implicated in the etiology of psychiatric diseases including bipolar mania. The goal of this proposal is to improve our understanding of the role of the circadian clock in the brain's mesolimbic dopaminergic circuit and the role that disruption of circadian genes plays in dysregulation of dopaminergic neurotransmission.
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