Understanding how dopamine (DA) phenotypes are acquired in midbrain DA (mDA) neuron development is important for bioassays and cell replacement therapy for mDA neuron-associated disorders. Here, we demonstrate a feed-forward mechanism of mDA neuron development involving Nurr1 and Foxa2. Nurr1 acts as a transcription factor for DA phenotype gene expression. However, Nurr1-mediated DA gene expression was inactivated by forming a protein complex with CoREST, and then recruiting histone deacetylase 1 (Hdac1), an enzyme catalyzing histone deacetylation, to DA gene promoters. Coexpression of Nurr1 and Foxa2 was established in mDA neuron precursor cells by a positive cross-regulatory loop. In the presence of Foxa2, the Nurr1-CoREST interaction was diminished (by competitive formation of the Nurr1-Foxa2 activator complex), and CoRESTHdac1 proteins were less enriched in DA gene promoters. Consequently, histone 3 acetylation (H3Ac), which is responsible for open chromatin structures, was strikingly increased at DA phenotype gene promoters. These data establish the interplay of Nurr1 and Foxa2 as the crucial determinant for DA phenotype acquisition during mDA neuron development.
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