Behavioral effects of SGK1 knockout in VTA and dopamine neurons.
ABSTRACT: Drugs of abuse cause significant neuroadaptations within the ventral tegmental area (VTA), with alterations in gene expression tied to changes in reward behavior. Serum- and glucocorticoid-inducible kinase 1 (SGK1) transcription, catalytic activity, and phosphorylation are upregulated in the VTA by chronic cocaine or morphine treatment, positioning SGK1 as a critical mediator of reward behavior. Using transgenic mouse models, we investigated the effect of SGK1 knockout in the VTA and in dopamine (DA) neurons to evaluate the necessity of protein expression for natural and drug reward behaviors. SGK1 knockdown in the VTA did not impact reward behaviors. Given VTA cellular heterogeneity, we also investigated a DA neuron-specific SGK1 knockout (KO). DA SGK1 KO significantly decreased body weight of adult mice as well as increased general locomotor activity; however, reward behaviors were similarly unaltered. Given that SGK1 mutants virally overexpressed in the VTA are capable of altering drug-associated behavior, our current results suggest that changes in SGK1 protein signaling may be distinct from expression. This work yields novel information on the impact of SGK1 deletion, critical for understanding the role of SGK1 signaling in the central nervous system and evaluating SGK1 as a potential therapeutic target for treatment of substance use disorders.
Project description:The activity of ventral tegmental area (VTA) dopamine (DA) neurons promotes behavioral responses to rewards and environmental stimuli that predict them. VTA GABA inputs synapse directly onto DA neurons and may regulate DA neuronal activity to alter reward-related behaviors; however, the functional consequences of selective activation of VTA GABA neurons remains unknown. Here, we show that in vivo optogenetic activation of VTA GABA neurons disrupts reward consummatory behavior but not conditioned anticipatory behavior in response to reward-predictive cues. In addition, direct activation of VTA GABA projections to the nucleus accumbens (NAc) resulted in detectable GABA release but did not alter reward consumption. Furthermore, optogenetic stimulation of VTA GABA neurons directly suppressed the activity and excitability of neighboring DA neurons as well as the release of DA in the NAc, suggesting that the dynamic interplay between VTA DA and GABA neurons can control the initiation and termination of reward-related behaviors.
Project description:Reward-related behavior is complex and its dysfunction correlated with neuropsychiatric illness. Dopamine (DA) neurons of the ventral tegmental area (VTA) have long been associated with different aspects of reward function, but it remains to be disentangled how distinct VTA DA neurons contribute to the full range of behaviors ascribed to the VTA. Here, a recently identified subtype of VTA neurons molecularly defined by NeuroD6 (NEX1M) was addressed. Among all VTA DA neurons, less than 15% were identified as positive for NeuroD6. In addition to dopaminergic markers, sparse NeuroD6 neurons expressed the vesicular glutamate transporter 2 (Vglut2) gene. To achieve manipulation of NeuroD6 VTA neurons, NeuroD6(NEX)-Cre-driven mouse genetics and optogenetics were implemented. First, expression of vesicular monoamine transporter 2 (VMAT2) was ablated to disrupt dopaminergic function in NeuroD6 VTA neurons. Comparing Vmat2lox/lox;NEX-Cre conditional knock-out (cKO) mice with littermate controls, it was evident that baseline locomotion, preference for sugar and ethanol, and place preference upon amphetamine-induced and cocaine-induced conditioning were similar between genotypes. However, locomotion upon repeated psychostimulant administration was significantly elevated above control levels in cKO mice. Second, optogenetic activation of NEX-Cre VTA neurons was shown to induce DA release and glutamatergic postsynaptic currents within the nucleus accumbens. Third, optogenetic stimulation of NEX-Cre VTA neurons in vivo induced significant place preference behavior, while stimulation of VTA neurons defined by Calretinin failed to cause a similar response. The results show that NeuroD6 VTA neurons exert distinct regulation over specific aspects of reward-related behavior, findings that contribute to the current understanding of VTA neurocircuitry.
Project description:Persistent drug-seeking behavior is hypothesized to co-opt the brain's natural reward-motivational system. Although ventral tegmental area (VTA) dopamine (DA) neurons represent a crucial component of this system, the synaptic adaptations underlying natural rewards and drug-related motivation have not been fully elucidated. Here, we show that self-administration of cocaine, but not passive cocaine infusions, produced a persistent potentiation of VTA excitatory synapses, which was still present after 3 months abstinence. Further, enhanced synaptic function in VTA was evident even after 3 weeks of extinction training. Food or sucrose self-administration induced only a transient potentiation of VTA glutamatergic signaling. Our data show that synaptic function in VTA DA neurons is readily but reversibly enhanced by natural reward-seeking behavior, while voluntary cocaine self-administration induced a persistent synaptic enhancement that is resistant to behavioral extinction. Such persistent synaptic potentiation in VTA DA neurons may represent a fundamental cellular phenomenon driving pathological drug-seeking behavior.
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:Mu opioid receptors (MORs) are widely distributed throughout brain reward circuits and their role in drug and social reward is well established. Substantial evidence has implicated MOR and the endogenous opioid system in alcohol reward, but circuit mechanisms of MOR-mediated alcohol reward and intake behavior remain elusive, and have not been investigated by genetic approaches. We recently created conditional knockout (KO) mice targeting the Oprm1 gene in GABAergic forebrain neurons. These mice (Dlx-MOR KO) show a major MOR deletion in the striatum, whereas receptors in midbrain (including the Ventral Tegmental Area or VTA) and hindbrain are intact. Here, we compared alcohol-drinking behavior and rewarding effects in total (MOR KO) and conditional KO mice. Concordant with our previous work, MOR KO mice drank less alcohol in continuous and intermittent two-bottle choice protocols. Remarkably, Dlx-MOR KO mice showed reduced drinking similar to MOR KO mice, demonstrating that MOR in the forebrain is responsible for the observed phenotype. Further, alcohol-induced conditioned place preference was detected in control but not MOR KO mice, indicating that MOR is essential for alcohol reward and again, Dlx-MOR KO recapitulated the MOR KO phenotype. Taste preference and blood alcohol levels were otherwise unchanged in mutant lines. Together, our data demonstrate that MOR expressed in forebrain GABAergic neurons is essential for alcohol reward-driven behaviors, including drinking and place conditioning. Challenging the prevailing VTA-centric hypothesis, this study reveals another mechanism of MOR-mediated alcohol reward and consumption, which does not necessarily require local VTA MORs but rather engages striatal MOR-dependent mechanisms.
Project description:The reward generated by social interactions is critical for promoting prosocial behaviors. Here we present evidence that oxytocin (OXT) release in the ventral tegmental area (VTA), a key node of the brain's reward circuitry, is necessary to elicit social reward. During social interactions, activity in paraventricular nucleus (PVN) OXT neurons increased. Direct activation of these neurons in the PVN or their terminals in the VTA enhanced prosocial behaviors. Conversely, inhibition of PVN OXT axon terminals in the VTA decreased social interactions. OXT increased excitatory drive onto reward-specific VTA dopamine (DA) neurons. These results demonstrate that OXT promotes prosocial behavior through direct effects on VTA DA neurons, thus providing mechanistic insight into how social interactions can generate rewarding experiences.
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: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:Nociceptin and its receptor are widely distributed throughout the brain in regions associated with reward behavior, yet how and when they act is unknown. Here, we dissected the role of a nociceptin peptide circuit in reward seeking. We generated a prepronociceptin (Pnoc)-Cre mouse line that revealed a unique subpopulation of paranigral ventral tegmental area (pnVTA) neurons enriched in prepronociceptin. Fiber photometry recordings during progressive ratio operant behavior revealed pnVTAPnoc neurons become most active when mice stop seeking natural rewards. Selective pnVTAPnoc neuron ablation, inhibition, and conditional VTA nociceptin receptor (NOPR) deletion increased operant responding, revealing that the pnVTAPnoc nucleus and VTA NOPR signaling are necessary for regulating reward motivation. Additionally, optogenetic and chemogenetic activation of this pnVTAPnoc nucleus caused avoidance and decreased motivation for rewards. These findings provide insight into neuromodulatory circuits that regulate motivated behaviors through identification of a previously unknown neuropeptide-containing pnVTA nucleus that limits motivation for rewards.
Project description:The main fast-acting inhibitory receptors in the mammalian brain are γ-aminobutyric acid type-A (GABAA) receptors for which neurosteroids, a subclass of steroids synthesized de novo in the brain, constitute a group of endogenous ligands with the most potent positive modulatory actions known. Neurosteroids can act on all subtypes of GABAA receptors, with a preference for δ-subunit-containing receptors that mediate extrasynaptic tonic inhibition. Pathological conditions characterized by emotional and motivational disturbances are often associated with perturbation in the levels of endogenous neurosteroids. We studied the effects of ganaxolone (GAN)-a synthetic analog of endogenous allopregnanolone that lacks activity on nuclear steroid receptors-on the mesolimbic dopamine (DA) system involved in emotions and motivation. A single dose of GAN in young mice induced a dose-dependent, long-lasting neuroplasticity of glutamate synapses of DA neurons ex vivo in the ventral tegmental area (VTA). Increased α-amino-3-hydroxy-5-methyl-4-isoxazole propionic acid (AMPA)/N-methyl-D-aspartate ratio and rectification of AMPA receptor responses even at 6 days after GAN administration suggested persistent synaptic targeting of GluA2-lacking AMPA receptors. This glutamate neuroplasticity was not observed in GABAA receptor δ-subunit-knockout (δ-KO) mice. GAN (500 nM) applied locally to VTA selectively increased tonic inhibition of GABA interneurons and triggered potentiation of DA neurons within 4 h in vitro. Place-conditioning experiments in adult wild-type C57BL/6J and δ-KO mice revealed aversive properties of repeated GAN administration that were dependent on the δ-subunits. Prolonged neuroadaptation to neurosteroids in the VTA might contribute to both the physiology and pathophysiology underlying processes and changes in motivation, mood, cognition, and drug addiction.