Date Available


Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation




Anatomy and Neurobiology

First Advisor

Dr. Greg A. Gerhardt

Second Advisor

Dr. John M. Littleton


The dissertation describes a novel method for plant drug discovery based on mutation and selection of plant cells. Despite the industry focus on chemical synthesis, plants remain a source of potent and complex bioactive metabolites. Many of these have evolved as defensive compounds targeted on key proteins in the CNS of herbivorous insects, for example the insect dopamine transporter (DAT). Because of homology with the human DAT protein some of these metabolites have high abuse potential, but others may be valuable in treating drug dependence. This dissertation redirects the evolution of a native Lobelia species toward metabolites with greater activity at this therapeutic target, i.e. the human DAT. This was achieved by expressing the human DAT protein in transgenic plant cells and selecting gain-of-function mutants for survival on medium containing a neurotoxin that is accumulated by the human DAT. This created a sub-population of mutants with increased DAT inhibitory activity. Some of the active metabolites in these mutants are novel (i.e. not detectable in wild-type cells). Others are cytoprotective, and also protect DAergic neurons against the neurotoxin. This provides proof-of-concept for a novel plant drug discovery platform, which is applicable to many different therapeutic target proteins and plant species.