Neurotransmitter identity and electrophysiological phenotype are genetically coupled in midbrain dopaminergic neurons
Most neuronal types have a well-identified electrical phenotype. It is now admitted that a same phenotype can be produced using multiple biophysical solutions defined by ion channel expression levels. This argues that systems-level approaches are necessary to understand electrical phenotype genesis and stability. Midbrain dopaminergic (DA) neurons, although quite heterogeneous, exhibit a characteristic electrical phenotype. However, the quantitative genetic principles underlying this conserved phenotype remain unknown. Here we investigated the quantitative relationships between ion channels' gene expression levels in midbrain DA neurons using single-cell microfluidic qPCR. Using multivariate mutual information analysis to decipher high-dimensional statistical dependences, we unravel co-varying gene modules that link neurotransmitter identity and electrical phenotype. We also identify new segregating gene modules underlying the diversity of this neuronal population. We propose that the newly identified genetic coupling between neurotransmitter identity and ion channels may play a homeostatic role in maintaining the electrophysiological phenotype of midbrain DA neurons.