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Research Article

Genetic Background Modulates the Phenotype of a Mouse Model of DYT1 Dystonia


DYT1 dystonia is a debilitating neurological disease characterized by involuntary twisting movements. The disease is caused by an in-frame deletion (GAG, “ΔE”) mutation in the TOR1A gene that encodes the torsinA protein. Intriguingly, only 30% of mutation carriers exhibit motor symptoms despite the fact that functional brain imaging studies show abnormal brain metabolism in all carriers. Because genetic modifiers may be a determinant of this reduced penetrance, we examined the genetic contribution of three different inbred strains of mice on the DYT1 mutation in animals that are homozygous (Tor1aΔE/ΔE) or heterozygous (Tor1aΔE/+; disease state) for the disease-causing ΔE mutation. We find that the DBA/2J, C57BL/6J, and CD1-ICR contribution of genes significantly alter lifespan in Tor1aΔE/ΔE mice, which die during the first few days of life on the 129S6/SvEvTac (129) background. The C57BL/6J (B6) strain significantly decreases life expectancy of Tor1aΔE/ΔE animals but, like 129S6/SvEvTac Tor1aΔE/+ mice, congenic C57BL/6J Tor1aΔE/+ mice do not exhibit any motor abnormalities. In contrast, the DBA/2J (D2) strain significantly increases life expectancy. This effect was not present in congenic DBA/2J Tor1aΔE/ΔE mice, indicating that the extended lifespan of F2 129/D2 mice was due to a combination of homozygous and heterozygous allelic effects. Our observations suggest that genetic modifiers may alter the penetrance of the ΔE mutation, and that mapping these modifiers may provide fresh insight into the torsinA molecular pathway.