Sager, J.J., Torres, G.E., and Burton, E.A. (2012) The Zebrafish Homologue of the Human DYT1 Dystonia Gene Is Widely Expressed in CNS Neurons but Non-Essential for Early Motor System Development. PLoS One. 7(9):e45175.
DYT1 dystonia is caused by mutation of the TOR1A gene, resulting in the loss of a single glutamic acid residue near the carboxyl terminal of TorsinA. The neuronal functions perturbed by TorsinA[ΔE] are a major unresolved issue in understanding the pathophysiology of dystonia, presenting a critical roadblock to developing effective treatments. We identified and characterized the zebrafish homologue of TOR1A, as a first step towards elucidating the functions of TorsinA in neurons, in vivo, using the genetically-manipulable zebrafish model. The zebrafish genome was found to contain a single alternatively-spliced tor1 gene, derived from a common ancestral locus shared with the dual TOR1A and TOR1B paralogues found in tertrapods. tor1 was expressed ubiquitously during early embryonic development and in multiple adult tissues, including the CNS. The 2.1 kb tor1 mRNA encodes Torsin1, which is 59% identical and 78% homologous to human TorsinA. Torsin1 was expressed as major 45 kDa and minor 47 kDa glycoproteins, within the cytoplasm of neurons and neuropil throughout the CNS. Similar to previous findings relating to human TorsinA, mutations of the ATP hydrolysis domain of Torsin1 resulted in relocalization of the protein in cultured cells from the endoplasmic reticulum to the nuclear envelope. Zebrafish embryos lacking tor1 during early development did not show impaired viability, overt morphological abnormalities, alterations in motor behavior, or developmental defects in the dopaminergic system. Torsin1 is thus non-essential for early development of the motor system, suggesting that important CNS functions may occur later in development, consistent with the critical time window in late childhood when dystonia symptoms usually emerge in DYT1 patients. The similarities between Torsin1 and human TorsinA in domain organization, expression pattern, and cellular localization suggest that the zebrafish will provide a useful model to understand the neuronal functions of Torsins in vivo.