Peripheral nerve injury-induced alterations in VTA neuron firing properties.
ABSTRACT: The ventral tegmental area (VTA) is one of the main brain regions harboring dopaminergic (DA) neurons, and plays important roles in reinforcement and motivation. Recent studies have indicated that DA neurons not only respond to rewarding stimuli, but also to noxious stimuli. Furthermore, VTA DA neurons undergo plasticity during chronic pain. Lateral and medial VTA neurons project to different brain areas, and have been characterized via their distinct electrophysiological properties. In this study, we characterized electrophysiological properties of lateral and medial VTA DA neurons using DAT-cre reporter mice, and examined their plasticity during neuropathic pain states. We observed various DA subpopulations in both the lateral and medial VTA, as defined by action potential firing patterns, independently of synaptic inputs. Our results demonstrated that lateral and medial VTA DA neurons undergo differential plasticity after peripheral nerve injury that leads to neuropathic pain. However, these changes only reside in specific DA subpopulations. This study suggests that lateral and medial VTA DA neurons are differentially affected during neuropathic pain conditions, and emphasizes the importance of subpopulation specificity when targeting VTA DA neurons for treatment of neuropathic pain.
Project description:The ventral tegmental area (VTA) is a midbrain region highly involved in motivation and reward. A large body of work has investigated synaptic plasticity and ion channel excitability in this area, which has strong implication in drug abuse. We recently provided electrophysiological and pharmacological evidence that the CaV3.1 isoform of T-type voltage-gated calcium channels contributes to the excitability of VTA dopamine (DA) neurons. However, the role of T-channels in excitability of VTA gamma-amino-butyric acid (GABA) neurons remained unaddressed. Here, with a population study of rat VTA GABA neurons, we provide evidence that T-channels contribute to rebound spiking activity in two phenotypically distinct subpopulations of GABAergic neurons, each with differing electrophysiological characteristics. Additionally, we provide the first study to investigate the effect of ?-lipoic acid (ALA) on ion channels in mesolimbic reward circuitry. Taken together, our population study and pharmacology experiments implicate T-channels as a target for therapies aimed at tempering VTA and mesolimbic circuit excitability.
Project description:Functional diversity of midbrain dopamine (DA) neurons ranges across multiple scales, from differences in intrinsic properties and connectivity to selective task engagement in behaving animals. Distinct in vitro biophysical features of DA neurons have been associated with different axonal projection targets. However, it is unknown how this translates to different firing patterns of projection-defined DA subpopulations in the intact brain. We combined retrograde tracing with single-unit recording and labelling in mouse brain to create an in vivo functional topography of the midbrain DA system. We identified differences in burst firing among DA neurons projecting to dorsolateral striatum. Bursting also differentiated DA neurons in the medial substantia nigra (SN) projecting either to dorsal or ventral striatum. We found differences in mean firing rates and pause durations among ventral tegmental area (VTA) DA neurons projecting to lateral or medial shell of nucleus accumbens. Our data establishes a high-resolution functional in vivo landscape of midbrain DA neurons.
Project description:Dopamine (DA) neurons are to encode reward prediction error (RPE), in addition to other signals, such as salience. While RPE is known to support learning, the role of salience in learning remains less clear. To address this, we recorded and manipulated VTA DA neurons in mice during fear extinction. We applied deep learning to classify mouse freezing behavior, eliminating the need for human scoring. Our fiber photometry recordings showed DA neurons in medial and lateral VTA have distinct activity profiles during fear extinction: medial VTA activity more closely reflected RPE, while lateral VTA activity more closely reflected a salience-like signal. Optogenetic inhibition of DA neurons in either region slowed fear extinction, with the relevant time period for inhibition differing across regions. Our results indicate salience-like signals can have similar downstream consequences to RPE-like signals, although with different temporal dependencies.
Project description:The ventral tegmental area (VTA) is a heterogeneous midbrain structure that contains dopamine (DA), GABA, and glutamate neurons that project to many different brain regions. Here, we combined retrograde tracing with immunocytochemistry against tyrosine hydroxylase (TH) or glutamate decarboxylase (GAD) to systematically compare the proportion of dopaminergic and GABAergic VTA projections to 10 target nuclei: anterior cingulate, prelimbic, and infralimbic cortex; nucleus accumbens core, medial shell, and lateral shell; anterior and posterior basolateral amygdala; ventral pallidum; and periaqueductal gray. Overall, the non-dopaminergic component predominated VTA efferents, accounting for more than 50% of all projecting neurons to each region except the nucleus accumbens core. In addition, GABA neurons contributed no more than 20% to each projection, with the exception of the projection to the ventrolateral periaqueductal gray, where the GABAergic contribution approached 50%. Therefore, there is likely a significant glutamatergic component to many of the VTA's projections. We also found that VTA cell bodies retrogradely labeled from the various target brain regions had distinct distribution patterns within the VTA, including in the locations of DA and GABA neurons. Despite this patterned organization, VTA neurons comprising these different projections were intermingled and never limited to any one subregion. These anatomical results are consistent with the idea that VTA neurons participate in multiple distinct, parallel circuits that differentially contribute to motivation and reward. While attention has largely focused on VTA DA neurons, a better understanding of VTA subpopulations, especially the contribution of non-DA neurons to projections, will be critical for future work.
Project description:Dopamine (DA) neurons in the midbrain ventral tegmental area (VTA) integrate complex inputs to encode multiple signals that influence motivated behaviors via diverse projections. Here, we combine axon-initiated viral transduction with rabies-mediated trans-synaptic tracing and Cre-based cell-type-specific targeting to systematically map input-output relationships of VTA-DA neurons. We found that VTA-DA (and VTA-GABA) neurons receive excitatory, inhibitory, and modulatory input from diverse sources. VTA-DA neurons projecting to different forebrain regions exhibit specific biases in their input selection. VTA-DA neurons projecting to lateral and medial nucleus accumbens innervate largely non-overlapping striatal targets, with the latter also sending extensive extra-striatal axon collaterals. Using electrophysiology and behavior, we validated new circuits identified in our tracing studies, including a previously unappreciated top-down reinforcing circuit from anterior cortex to lateral nucleus accumbens via VTA-DA neurons. This study highlights the utility of our viral-genetic tracing strategies to elucidate the complex neural substrates that underlie motivated behaviors.
Project description:BACKGROUND:Homeostatic plasticity in mesolimbic dopamine (DA) neurons plays an essential role in mediating resilience to social stress. Recent evidence implicates an association between stress resilience and projections from the locus coeruleus (LC) to the ventral tegmental area (VTA) (LC?VTA) DA system. However, the precise circuitry and molecular mechanisms of the homeostatic plasticity in mesolimbic DA neurons mediated by the LC?VTA circuitry, and its role in conferring resilience to social defeat stress, have not been described. METHODS:In a well-established chronic social defeat stress model of depression, using projection-specific electrophysiological recordings and optogenetic, pharmacological, and molecular profiling techniques, we investigated the functional role and molecular basis of an LC?VTA circuit in conferring resilience to social defeat stress. RESULTS:We found that LC neurons projecting to the VTA exhibit enhanced firing activity in resilient, but not susceptible, mice. Optogenetically mimicking this firing adaptation in susceptible mice reverses their depression-related behaviors, and induces reversal of cellular hyperactivity and homeostatic plasticity in VTA DA neurons projecting to the nucleus accumbens. Circuit-specific molecular profiling studies reveal that ?1- and ?3-adrenergic receptors are highly expressed in VTA?nucleus accumbens DA neurons. Pharmacologically activating these receptors induces similar proresilient effects at the ion channel and cellular and behavioral levels, whereas antagonizing these receptors blocks the proresilient effect of optogenetic activation of LC?VTA circuit neurons in susceptible mice. CONCLUSIONS:These findings reveal a key role of the LC?VTA circuit in mediating homeostatic plasticity in stress resilience and reveal ?1- and ?3-adrenergic receptors as new molecular targets for therapeutically promoting resilience.
Project description:Chronic opiate exposure induces neuroadaptations in the mesocorticolimbic system including ventral tegmental area (VTA) dopamine (DA) neurons, whose soma size is decreased following opiate exposure. Yet it is now well documented that VTA DA neurons are heterogeneous, with notable differences between VTA DA neurons based on their projection target. Therefore, we sought to determine whether chronic morphine induced similar changes in the morphology of VTA DA neurons that project to the nucleus accumbens (NAc) and prefrontal cortex (PFC). We utilized Cre-dependent retrograde viral vectors in DA Cre driver lines to label VTA DA neurons that projected to NAc and PFC and assessed neuronal soma size. Consistent with previous data, the soma size of VTA DA neurons that projected to the NAc medial shell was decreased following morphine exposure. However, soma size of VTA DA neurons that projected to the NAc core was unaltered by morphine. Interestingly, morphology of PFC-projecting VTA DA neurons was also altered by morphine, but in this case soma size was increased compared to sham controls. Differences in basal soma size were also noted, suggesting stable differences in projection-specific morphology in addition to drug-induced changes. Together, these data suggest morphine-induced changes in VTA DA morphology occur within distinct VTA DA populations and that study of opiate-induced structural plasticity of individual VTA DA subcircuits may be critical for understanding addiction-related behavior.
Project description:Dopaminergic afferents arising from the ventral tegmental area (VTA) are crucial elements in the neural circuits that mediate arousal, motivation, and reinforcement. Two major targets of these afferents are the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) and the nucleus accumbens (NAc). Whereas dopamine (DA) in the mPFC has been implicated in working memory and attentional processes, DA in the NAc is required for responding to reward predictive cues. These distinct functions suggest a role for independent firing patterns of dopaminergic neurons projecting to these brain regions. In fact, DA release in mPFC and NAc can be differentially modulated. However, to date, electrophysiological studies have largely overlooked heterogeneity among VTA neurons. Here, we provide direct evidence for differential neurotransmitter control of DA neural activity and corresponding DA release based on projection target. Kappa opioid receptor agonists inhibit VTA DA neurons that project to the mPFC but not those that project to the NAc. Moreover, DA levels in the mPFC, but not the NAc, are reduced after local infusion of kappa opioid receptor agonists into the VTA. These findings demonstrate that DA release in specific brain regions can be independently regulated by opioid targeting of a subpopulation of VTA DA neurons. Selective control of VTA DA neurons projecting to the mPFC has important implications for understanding addiction, attention disorders, and schizophrenia, all of which are associated with DA dysfunction in the mPFC.
Project description:Mesolimbic dopamine (DA) neurons play a central role in motivation and reward processing. Although the activity of these mesolimbic DA neurons is controlled by afferent inputs, little is known about the circuits in which they are embedded. Using retrograde tracing, electrophysiology, optogenetics, and behavioral assays, we identify principles of afferent-specific control in the mesolimbic DA system. Neurons in the medial shell subdivision of the nucleus accumbens (NAc) exert direct inhibitory control over two separate populations of mesolimbic DA neurons by activating different GABA receptor subtypes. In contrast, NAc lateral shell neurons mainly synapse onto ventral tegmental area (VTA) GABA neurons, resulting in disinhibition of DA neurons that project back to the NAc lateral shell. Lastly, we establish a critical role for NAc subregion-specific input to the VTA underlying motivated behavior. Collectively, our results suggest a distinction in the incorporation of inhibitory inputs between different subtypes of mesolimbic DA neurons.
Project description:The ventral tegmental area (VTA) is a heterogeneous brain region, containing different neuronal populations. During in vivo recordings, electrophysiological characteristics are classically used to distinguish the different populations. However, the VTA is also considered as a region harboring neurons with heterogeneous properties. In the present study, we aimed to classify VTA neurons using in silico approaches, in an attempt to determine if homogeneous populations could be extracted. Thus, we recorded 291 VTA neurons during in vivo extracellular recordings in anesthetized rats. Initially, 22 neurons with high firing rates (>10 Hz) and short-lasting action potentials (AP) were considered as a separate subpopulation, in light of previous studies. To segregate the remaining 269 neurons, presumably dopaminergic (DA), we performed in silico analyses, using a combination of different electrophysiological parameters. These parameters included: (1) firing rate; (2) firing rate coefficient of variation (CV); (3) percentage of spikes in a burst; (4) AP duration; (5) ?t1 duration (i.e., time from initiation of depolarization until end of repolarization); and (6) presence of a notched AP waveform. Unsupervised hierarchical clustering revealed two neuronal populations that differed in their bursting activities. The largest population presented low bursting activities (<17.5% of total spikes in burst), while the remaining neurons presented higher bursting activities (>17.5%). Within non-high-firing neurons, a large heterogeneity was noted concerning AP characteristics. In conclusion, this analysis based on conventional electrophysiological criteria clustered two subpopulations of putative DA VTA neurons that are distinguishable by their firing patterns (firing rates and bursting activities) but not their AP properties.