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1.  DAT by perceived MC interaction on human prefrontal activity and connectivity during emotion processing 
Background: Maternal care (MC) and dopamine modulate brain activity during emotion processing in inferior frontal gyrus (IFG), striatum and amygdala. Reuptake of dopamine from the synapse is performed by the dopamine transporter (DAT), whose abundance is predicted by variation in its gene (DAT 3′VNTR; 10 > 9-repeat alleles). Here, we investigated the interaction between perceived MC and DAT 3′VNTR genotype on brain activity during processing of aversive facial emotional stimuli.
Methods: Sixty-one healthy subjects were genotyped for DAT 3′VNTR and categorized in low and high MC individuals. They underwent functional magnetic resonance imaging while performing a task requiring gender discrimination of facial stimuli with angry, fearful or neutral expressions.
Results: An interaction between facial expression, DAT genotype and MC was found in left IFG, such that low MC and homozygosity for the 10-repeat allele are associated with greater activity during processing of fearful faces. This greater activity was also inversely correlated with a measure of emotion control as scored with the Big Five Questionnaire. Moreover, MC and DAT genotype described a double dissociation on functional connectivity between IFG and amygdala.
Conclusion: These findings suggest that perceived early parental bonding may interact with DAT 3′VNTR genotype in modulating brain activity during emotionally relevant inputs.
PMCID: PMC3831553  PMID: 22842906
emotion; dopamine; maternal care; fMRI; amygdala; inferior frontal gyrus
2.  DRD2 Genotype-Based Variation of Default Mode Network Activity and of Its Relationship With Striatal DAT Binding 
Schizophrenia Bulletin  2011;39(1):206-216.
The default mode network (DMN) comprises a set of brain regions with “increased” activity during rest relative to cognitive processing. Activity in the DMN is associated with functional connections with the striatum and dopamine (DA) levels in this brain region. A functional single-nucleotide polymorphism within the dopamine D2 receptor gene (DRD2, rs1076560 G > T) shifts splicing of the 2 D2 isoforms, D2 short and D2 long, and has been associated with striatal DA signaling as well as with cognitive processing. However, the effects of this polymorphism on DMN have not been explored. The aim of this study was to evaluate the effects of rs1076560 on DMN and striatal connectivity and on their relationship with striatal DA signaling. Twenty-eight subjects genotyped for rs1076560 underwent functional magnetic resonance imaging during a working memory task and 123 55 I-Fluoropropyl-2-beta-carbomethoxy-3-beta(4-iodophenyl) nortropan Single Photon Emission Computed Tomography ([123I]-FP-CIT SPECT) imaging (a measure of dopamine transporter [DAT] binding). Spatial group-independent component (IC) analysis was used to identify DMN and striatal ICs. Within the anterior DMN IC, GG subjects had relatively greater connectivity in medial prefrontal cortex (MPFC), which was directly correlated with striatal DAT binding. Within the posterior DMN IC, GG subjects had reduced connectivity in posterior cingulate relative to T carriers. Additionally, rs1076560 genotype predicted connectivity differences within a striatal network, and these changes were correlated with connectivity in MPFC and posterior cingulate within the DMN. These results suggest that genetically determined D2 receptor signaling is associated with DMN connectivity and that these changes are correlated with striatal function and presynaptic DA signaling.
PMCID: PMC3523900  PMID: 21976709
DRD2; dopamine; default mode network; functional magnetic resonance imaging; single-photon emission computerized tomography
3.  Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF) Expression Is Regulated by MicroRNAs miR-26a and miR-26b Allele-Specific Binding 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(12):e28656.
Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) is a neurotrophin that plays an essential role in neuronal development and plasticity. MicroRNA (miRNAs) are small non-coding RNAs of about 22-nucleotides in length regulating gene expression at post-transcriptional level. In this study we explore the role of miRNAs as post-transcriptional inhibitors of BDNF and the effect of 3′UTR sequence variations on miRNAs binding capacity. Using an in silico approach we identified a group of miRNAs putatively regulating BDNF expression and binding to BDNF 3′UTR polymorphic sequences. Luciferase assays demonstrated that these miRNAs (miR-26a1/2 and miR-26b) downregulates BDNF expression and that the presence of the variant alleles of two single nucleotide polymorphisms (rs11030100 and rs11030099) mapping in BDNF 3′UTR specifically abrogates miRNAs targeting. Furthermore we found a high linkage disequilibrium rate between rs11030100, rs11030099 and the non-synonymous coding variant rs6265 (Val66Met), which modulates BDNF mRNA localization and protein intracellular trafficking. Such observation led to hypothesize that miR-26s mediated regulation could extend to rs6265 leading to an allelic imbalance with potentially functional effects, such as peptide's localization and activity-dependent secretion. Since rs6265 has been previously implicated in various neuropsychiatric disorders, we evaluated the distribution of rs11030100, rs11030099 and rs6265 both in a control and schizophrenic group, but no significant difference in allele frequencies emerged. In conclusion, in the present study we identified two novel miRNAs regulating BDNF expression and the first BDNF 3′UTR functional variants altering miRNAs-BDNF binding.
PMCID: PMC3237476  PMID: 22194877
4.  Functional variation of the dopamine D2 receptor gene is associated with emotional control as well as brain activity and connectivity during emotion processing in humans 
Personality traits related to emotion processing are, at least in part, heritable and genetically determined. Dopamine D2 receptor signaling is involved in modulation of emotional behavior and activity of associated brain regions such as the amygdala and the prefrontal cortex. An intronic single nucleotide polymorphism within the D2 receptor gene (DRD2, rs1076560, guanine>thymine - G>T) shifts splicing of the two protein isoforms (D2 short, D2S, mainly presynaptic, and D2 long, D2L) and has been associated with modulation of memory performance and brain activity. Here, our aim was to investigate the association of DRD2 rs1076560 genotype with personality traits of emotional stability and with brain physiology during processing of emotionally relevant stimuli. DRD2 genotype and Big Five Questionnaire scores were evaluated in 134 healthy subjects demonstrating that GG subjects have reduced ‘emotion control’ compared with GT subjects. fMRI in a sample of 24 individuals indicated greater amygdala activity during implicit processing and greater dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC) response during explicit processing of facial emotional stimuli in GG subjects compared with GT. Other results also demonstrate an interaction between DRD2 genotype and facial emotional expression on functional connectivity of both amygdala and dorsolateral prefrontal regions with overlapping medial prefrontal areas. Moreover, rs1076560 genotype is associated with differential relationships between amygdala/DLPFC functional connectivity and emotion control scores. These results suggest that genetically determined D2 signaling may explain part of personality traits related to emotion processing and individual variability in specific brain responses to emotionally relevant inputs.
PMCID: PMC2834475  PMID: 19940176
amygdala; DRD2; dopamine; emotion; fMRI; prefrontal cortex
5.  Genetically Determined Measures of Striatal D2 Signaling Predict Prefrontal Activity during Working Memory Performance 
PLoS ONE  2010;5(2):e9348.
Variation of the gene coding for D2 receptors (DRD2) has been associated with risk for schizophrenia and with working memory deficits. A functional intronic SNP (rs1076560) predicts relative expression of the two D2 receptors isoforms, D2S (mainly pre-synaptic) and D2L (mainly post-synaptic). However, the effect of functional genetic variation of DRD2 on striatal dopamine D2 signaling and on its correlation with prefrontal activity during working memory in humans is not known.
Thirty-seven healthy subjects were genotyped for rs1076560 (G>T) and underwent SPECT with [123I]IBZM (which binds primarily to post-synaptic D2 receptors) and with [123I]FP-CIT (which binds to pre-synaptic dopamine transporters, whose activity and density is also regulated by pre-synaptic D2 receptors), as well as BOLD fMRI during N-Back working memory.
Subjects carrying the T allele (previously associated with reduced D2S expression) had striatal reductions of [123I]IBZM and of [123I]FP-CIT binding. DRD2 genotype also differentially predicted the correlation between striatal dopamine D2 signaling (as identified with factor analysis of the two radiotracers) and activity of the prefrontal cortex during working memory as measured with BOLD fMRI, which was positive in GG subjects and negative in GT.
Our results demonstrate that this functional SNP within DRD2 predicts striatal binding of the two radiotracers to dopamine transporters and D2 receptors as well as the correlation between striatal D2 signaling with prefrontal cortex activity during performance of a working memory task. These data are consistent with the possibility that the balance of excitatory/inhibitory modulation of striatal neurons may also affect striatal outputs in relationship with prefrontal activity during working memory performance within the cortico-striatal-thalamic-cortical pathway.
PMCID: PMC2825256  PMID: 20179754
6.  Genetically determined interaction between the dopamine transporter and the D2 receptor on prefronto-striatal activity and volume in humans 
Dopamine modulation of neuronal activity during memory tasks identifies a non-linear inverted-U shaped function. Both the dopamine transporter (DAT) and dopamine D2 receptors (encoded by DRD2) critically regulate dopamine signaling in the striatum and in prefrontal cortex during memory. Moreover, in vitro studies have demonstrated that DAT and D2 proteins reciprocally regulate each other presynaptically. Therefore, we have evaluated the genetic interaction between a DRD2 polymorphism (rs1076560) causing reduced presynaptic D2 receptor expression and the DAT 3’-VNTR variant (affecting DAT expression) in a large sample of healthy subjects undergoing BOLD - fMRI during memory tasks and structural MRI. Results indicated a significant DRD2/DAT interaction in prefrontal cortex and striatum BOLD activity during both working memory and encoding of recognition memory. The differential effect on BOLD activity of the DAT variant was mostly manifest in the context of the DRD2 allele associated with lower presynaptic expression. Similar results were also evident for gray matter volume in caudate. These interactions describe a non-linear relationship between compound genotypes and brain activity or gray matter volume. Complementary data from striatal protein extracts from wild-type and D2 knock-out animals (D2R−/−) indicate that DAT and D2 proteins interact in vivo. Taken together, our results demonstrate that the interaction between genetic variants in DRD2 and DAT critically modulates the non-linear relationship between dopamine and neuronal activity during memory processing.
PMCID: PMC2686116  PMID: 19176830
working memory; Recognition Memory; FMRI; Dopamine; Transport; D2; Receptor
7.  DHPLC Screening of ATM Gene in Italian Patients Affected by Ataxia-Telangiectasia: Fourteen Novel ATM Mutations 
Disease Markers  2006;22(4):257-264.
The gene for ataxia-telangiectasia (A-T:MIM:#208900), ATM, spans about 150~kb of genomic DNA and is composed of 62 coding exons. ATM mutations are found along the entire coding sequence of the gene, without evidence of mutational hot spots. Using DNA as the starting material, we used denaturing high performance liquid chromatography (DHPLC) technique to search for ATM gene mutations. Initially, DHPLC was validated in a retrospective study of 16 positive control samples that included 19 known mutations; 100% of mutations were detected. Subsequently, DHPLC was used to screen for mutations a cohort of 22 patients with the classical form of A-T. A total of 27 different mutations were identified on 38 of the 44 alleles, corresponding to a 86% detection rate. Fourteen of the mutations were novel. In addition, 15 different variants and polymorphisms of unknown functional significance were found. The high incidence of new and individual A-T mutations in our cohort of patients demonstrates marked mutational heterogeneity of A-T in Italy and corroborate the efficiency of DHPLC as a method for the mutation screening of A-T patients.
PMCID: PMC3862285  PMID: 17124347
Ataxia-Telangiectasia; ATM; mutations; DHPLC; polymorphisms

Results 1-7 (7)