Protective Actions of the Vesicular Monoamine Transporter 2 (VMAT2) in Monoaminergic Neurons
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- Guillot, T.S. & Miller, G.W. Mol Neurobiol (2009) 39: 149. doi:10.1007/s12035-009-8059-y
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Vesicular monoamine transporters (VMATs) are responsible for the packaging of neurotransmitters such as dopamine, serotonin, norepinephrine, and epinephrine into synaptic vesicles. These proteins evolved from precursors in the major facilitator superfamily of transporters and are among the members of the toxin extruding antiporter family. While the primary function of VMATs is to sequester neurotransmitters within vesicles, they can also translocate toxicants away from cytosolic sites of action. In the case of dopamine, this dual role of VMAT2 is combined—dopamine is more readily oxidized in the cytosol where it can cause oxidative stress so packaging into vesicles serves two purposes: neurotransmission and neuroprotection. Furthermore, the deleterious effects of exogenous toxicants on dopamine neurons, such as MPTP, can be attenuated by VMAT2 activity. The active metabolite of MPTP can be kept within vesicles and prevented from disrupting mitochondrial function thereby sparing the dopamine neuron. The highly addictive drug methamphetamine is also neurotoxic to dopamine neurons by using dopamine itself to destroy the axon terminals. Methamphetamine interferes with vesicular sequestration and increases the production of dopamine, escalating the amount in the cytosol and leading to oxidative damage of terminal components. Vesicular transport seems to resist this process by sequestering much of the excess dopamine, which is illustrated by the enhanced methamphetamine neurotoxicity in VMAT2-deficient mice. It is increasingly evident that VMAT2 provides neuroprotection from both endogenous and exogenous toxicants and that while VMAT2 has been adapted by eukaryotes for synaptic transmission, it is derived from phylogenetically ancient proteins that originally evolved for the purpose of cellular protection.