The dopamine transporter is localized to dendritic and axonal plasma membranes of nigrostriatal dopaminergic neurons

Melissa J. Nirenberg, Roxanne A. Vaughan, George R. Uhl, Michael J. Kuhar, Virginia M. Pickel

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360 Scopus citations


Nigrostriatal dopaminergic neurons play an essential role in the central regulation of motor functions. These functions are initiated through the release of dopamine from axon terminals in the striatum or from dendrites in the substantia nigra (SN) and are terminated by the reuptake of dopamine by the sodium- and chloride-dependent dopamine transporter (DAT). DAT also can transport dopamine neurotoxins and has been implicated in the selective vulnerability of nigrostriatal dopaminergic neurons in major models of Parkinson's disease. We have used electron microscopic immunocytochemistry with an N-terminal domain anti-peptide antibody to examine the subcellular distribution of DAT in the rat SN and dorsolateral striatum. In the SN, immunogold labeling for DAT was localized to cytoplasmic surfaces of plasma membranes and smooth endoplasmic reticulum of dendrites and dendritic spines, few of which contained synaptic vesicles. Neuronal perikarya in the SN contained immunogold-labeled pleomorphic electron-lucent tubulovesicles but showed immunolabeling of plasma membranes only rarely. Axon terminals in the striatum contained extensive immunogold labeling of cytoplasmic surfaces of plasma membranes near aggregates of synaptic vesicles and less frequent labeling of intervaricose segments of plasma membrane or small electron- lucent vesicles. In sections dually labeled for DAT and the catecholamine- synthesizing enzyme tyrosine hydroxylase, both markers were colocalized in most profiles in the SN and striatum. These findings support the proposed topological model for DAT and suggest that this transporter is strategically located to facilitate uptake of dopamine and neurotoxins into distal dendritic and axonal processes of nigrostriatal dopaminergic neurons.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)436-447
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Neuroscience
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jan 15 1996


  • amphetamine
  • caudate-putamen
  • cocaine
  • dendritic release
  • dopamine reuptake
  • dopamine transporter
  • immunogold
  • neurotoxicity
  • Parkinson's disease
  • reverse transport
  • striatum
  • substantia nigra

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Neuroscience

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