Background: Neurochemicals like serotonin and dopamine play crucial roles in human cognitive and emotional functions. Vesicular monoamine transporter 1 (VMAT1) transports monoamine neurotransmitters, and its variant (136Thr) is associated with various psychopathological symptoms and reduced monoamine uptake relative to 136Ile. We previously showed that two human-specific amino acid substitutions (Glu130Gly and Asn136Thr/Ile) of VMAT1 were subject to positive natural selection. However, the potential functional alterations caused by these substitutions (Glu130Gly and Asn136Thr) remain unclear. To assess functional changes in VMAT1 from an evolutionary perspective, we reconstructed ancestral residues and examined the role of these substitutions in monoamine uptake in vitro using fluorescent false neurotransmitters (FFN), which are newly developed substances used to quantitatively assay VMATs. Results: Immunoblotting confirmed that all the transfected YFP-VMAT1 variants are properly expressed in HEK293T cells at comparable levels, and no significant difference was seen in the density and the size of vesicles among them. Our fluorescent assays revealed a significant difference in FFN206 uptake among VMAT1 variants: 130Glu/136Asn, 130Glu/136Thr, and 130Gly/136Ile showed significantly higher levels of FFN206 uptake than 130Gly/136Asn and 130Gly/136Thr, indicating that both 130Glu and 136Ile led to increased neurotransmitter uptake, for which 136Thr and 136Asn were comparable by contrast. Conclusions: These findings suggest that monoamine uptake by VMAT1 initially declined (from 130Glu/136Asn to 130Gly/136Thr) in human evolution, possibly resulting in higher susceptibility to the external environment of our ancestors.
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