Open Access Research article

An evolutionary conserved region (ECR) in the human dopamine receptor D4 gene supports reporter gene expression in primary cultures derived from the rat cortex

Ursula M Paredes12, Vivien J Bubb1, Kate Haddley1, Gabriele A Macho13 and John P Quinn1*

Author affiliations

1 Institute of Translational Medicine, University of Liverpool, Ashton Street, Liverpool, L69 3GE, UK

2 MRC centre for Social, Genetic and Developmental Psychiatry Centre, Institute of Psychiatry, King's College, University of London, PO 80, DeCrespigny Park, London, SE5 8AF, UK

3 Institut Català de Paleontologia, Campus de la Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, 08193 Cerdanyola del Vallès, Barcelona, Spain

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Citation and License

BMC Neuroscience 2011, 12:46  doi:10.1186/1471-2202-12-46

Published: 20 May 2011



Detecting functional variants contributing to diversity of behaviour is crucial for dissecting genetics of complex behaviours. At a molecular level, characterisation of variation in exons has been studied as they are easily identified in the current genome annotation although the functional consequences are less well understood; however, it has been difficult to prioritise regions of non-coding DNA in which genetic variation could also have significant functional consequences. Comparison of multiple vertebrate genomes has allowed the identification of non-coding evolutionary conserved regions (ECRs), in which the degree of conservation can be comparable with exonic regions suggesting functional significance.


We identified ECRs at the dopamine receptor D4 gene locus, an important gene for human behaviours. The most conserved non-coding ECR (D4ECR1) supported high reporter gene expression in primary cultures derived from neonate rat frontal cortex. Computer aided analysis of the sequence of the D4ECR1 indicated the potential transcription factors that could modulate its function. D4ECR1 contained multiple consensus sequences for binding the transcription factor Sp1, a factor previously implicated in DRD4 expression. Co-transfection experiments demonstrated that overexpression of Sp1 significantly decreased the activity of the D4ECR1 in vitro.


Bioinformatic analysis complemented by functional analysis of the DRD4 gene locus has identified a) a strong enhancer that functions in neurons and b) a transcription factor that may modulate the function of that enhancer.

DRD4; transcriptional; dopamine; sequence conservation; ECR; enhancer