A role for cell ‘antennae’ in managing dopamine signals in the brain: Study is first to show proper signaling relies on neuronal cilia

A historically overlooked rod-like projection present on nearly every cell type in the human body may finally be getting its scientific due: A new study has found that these appendages, called cilia, on neurons in the brain have a key role in ensuring a specific dopamine receptor’s signals are properly received.

The research was conducted in mouse models of a disorder called Bardet-Biedl syndrome, and applies to one of five proteins that regulate dopamine signaling, called dopamine receptor 1. In certain regions of the brain, this receptor can be thought of as an “on” switch that initiates motivated behavior — basically any behavior linked to pursuit of a goal.

The study showed that if the receptor either gets stuck on cilia or never has a chance to localize to these cell “antennae,” messages telling the body to move are reduced.

“There’s something about dopamine receptor 1 needing to get to and from neuronal cilia that’s required for proper signaling,” said lead author Kirk Mykytyn, associate professor of biological chemistry and pharmacology in The Ohio State University College of Medicine. “This is the first demonstration that cilia are important for dopamine receptor 1 signaling.”

The study is published in the Journal of Neuroscience.

Bardet-Biedl syndrome (BBS) is part of a class of human diseases called ciliopathies — caused by dysfunctional cilia on a range of cell types — and is characterized by multiple organ system defects, adult blindness, obesity and intellectual disabilities.

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