Rationale: While the role of the mesocorticolimbic (MCL) dopamine (DA) system in mediating the reinforcing properties of drugs of abuse has been well established, how and where other neurotransmitter systems interact to modify this system is less well understood.
Objectives: The present study sought to assess whether blockade of ionotropic glutamate receptors in the ventral tegmental area (VTA) would modulate heroin self-administration (SA) behavior in rats.
Methods: The effects of systemic or regional administration of ionotropic glutamate receptor antagonists into the VTA on the maintenance of heroin SA were assessed. Rats were reinforced each time they responded on a lever with a single injection of intravenous heroin. To determine the specificity of their effects on heroin SA, the ability of these antagonists to modify locomotion and food-reinforced behavior was also examined.
Results: Systemic or regional administration of the non-competitive NMDA antagonist dizocilpine into the VTA significantly increased the rate of heroin SA and shifted the heroin dose-response curve to the right. Similarly, when systemically administered, ketamine, another non-competitive NMDA antagonist, also increased the rate of heroin SA. However, when administered directly into the VTA, ketamine or AP5 [ D-(-)-2-amino-5-phosphonopentanoic acid, a competitive NMDA antagonist], dose-dependently blocked heroin SA. In contrast, 6,7-dinitroquinoxaline-2,3-dione (DNQX), an AMPA/kainate receptor antagonist, significantly increased heroin SA.
Conclusion: These data suggest that ionotropic glutamate receptors in the VTA, presumably by modulating MCL DA efferents and/or tegmental interneurons, modulate opiate reinforcement.