Reduced movement frequency or physical activity (bradykinesia) occurs with high prevalence in the elderly. However, loss of striatal tyrosine hydroxylase (TH) in aging humans, non-human primates, or rodents does not reach the ~ 80% loss threshold associated with bradykinesia onset in Parkinson’s disease. Moderate striatal dopamine (DA) loss, either following TH inhibition or decreased TH expression, may not affect movement frequency. In contrast, moderate DA or TH loss in the substantia nigra (SN), as occurs in aging, is of similar magnitude (~ 40%) to nigral TH loss at bradykinesia onset in Parkinson’s disease. In aged rats, increased TH expression and DA in SN alone increases movement frequency, suggesting aging-related TH and DA loss in the SN contributes to aging-related bradykinesia or decreased physical activity. To test this hypothesis, the SN was targeted with bilateral guide cannula in young (6 months old) rats, in a within-subjects design, to evaluate the impact of nigral TH inhibition on movement frequency and speed. The TH inhibitor, α-methyl-p-tyrosine (AMPT) reduced nigral DA (~ 40%) 45–150 min following infusion, without affecting DA in striatum, nucleus accumbens, or adjacent ventral tegmental area. Locomotor activity in the open-field was recorded up to 3 h following nigral saline or AMPT infusion in each test subject. During the period of nigra-specific DA reduction, movement frequency, but not movement speed, was significantly decreased. These results indicate that DA or TH loss in the SN, as observed in aging, contributes as a central mechanism of reduced movement frequency.
- Substantia nigra
- Tyrosine hydroxylase