Mutations of the DJ-1 (PARK7) gene are linked to familial Parkinson's disease. We used gene targeting to generate DJ-1-deficient mice that were viable, fertile, and showed no gross anatomical or neuronal abnormalities. Dopaminergic neuron numbers in the substantia nigra and fiber densities and dopamine levels in the striatum were normal. However, DJ-1-/- mice showed hypolocomotion when subjected to amphetamine challenge and increased striatal denervation and dopaminergic neuron loss induced by 1-methyl-4-phenyl-1,2,3,6-tetrahydropyrindine. DJ-1-/-embryonic cortical neurons showed increased sensitivity to oxidative, but not nonoxidative, insults. Restoration of DJ-1 expression to DJ-1-/- mice or cells via adenoviral vector delivery mitigated all phenotypes. WT mice that received adenoviral delivery of DJ-1 resisted 1-methyl-4-phenyl-1,2,3,6-tetrahydropyrindine-induced striatal damage, and neurons overexpressing DJ-1 were protected from oxidative stress in vitro. Thus, DJ-1 protects against neuronal oxidative stress, and loss of DJ-1 may lead to Parkinson's disease by conferring hypersensitivity to dopaminergic insults.
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