Methamphetamine (MA) is highly addictive and neurotoxic, causing cell death in humans and in rodent models. MA, along with many of its analogs, is an agonist at the G protein–coupled trace amine-associated receptor 1 (TAAR1). TAAR1 activation protects against MA-induced degeneration of dopaminergic neurons, suggesting that TAAR1 plays a role in regulating MA-induced neurotoxicity. However, the mechanisms involved in TAAR1’s role in neurotoxicity and cell death have not been described in detail. In this study, we investigated the apoptosis pathway in Taar1 wild-type (WT) and knockout (KO) mice and in cells expressing the recombinant receptor. Bcl-2, an antiapoptotic protein, was upregulated ∼3-fold in the midbrain area (substantial nigra and ventral tegmental area) in Taar1 KO compared with WT mice, and MA significantly increased Bcl-2 expression in WT mice but decreased Bcl-2 expression in KO mice. The proapoptotic protein Bax did not differ across genotype or in response to MA. Bcl-2 expression was significantly upregulated by the TAAR1 agonist RO5166017 ((S)-4-[(ethyl-phenyl-amino)methyl]-4,5-dihydro-oxazol-2-ylamine) in cells expressing the recombinant mouse TAAR1. Additionally, activation of TAAR1 by RO5166017 increased phosphorylation of extracellular signal-regulated kinase (ERK) 1/2, and protein kinase B (AKT), but only inhibition of ERK1/2 phosphorylation prevented TAAR1-induced increases in Bcl-2 levels, indicating that TAAR1 activation increases Bcl-2 through an ERK1/2-dependent pathway. All changes to ERK1/2 pathway intermediates were blocked by the TAAR1 antagonist, N-(3-ethoxyphenyl)-4-(1-pyrrolidinyl)-3-(trifluoromethyl) benzamide. These findings suggest that TAAR1 activation protects against MA-induced cell apoptosis and TAAR1 may play a role in cell death in neurodegenerative diseases. SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT Methamphetamine stimulates TAAR1, a G protein–coupled receptor. The role and mechanisms for TAAR1 in methamphetamine-induced neurotoxicity are not known. Here, we report that, in genetic mouse models and cells expressing the recombinant receptor, TAAR1 activates the ERK1/2 pathway but not the AKT pathway to upregulate the antiapoptotic protein Bcl-2, which protects cells from drug-induced toxicity.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Molecular Medicine