Glutamatergic neurons are present in the rat ventral tegmental area

Eur J Neurosci. 2007 Jan;25(1):106-18. doi: 10.1111/j.1460-9568.2006.05263.x.


The ventral tegmental area (VTA) is thought to play an important role in reward function. Two populations of neurons, containing either dopamine (DA) or gamma-amino butyric acid (GABA), have been extensively characterized in this area. However, recent electrophysiological studies are consistent with the notion that neurons that utilize neurotransmitters other than DA or GABA are likely to be present in the VTA. Given the pronounced phenotypic diversity of neurons in this region, we have proposed that additional cell types, such as those that express the neurotransmitter glutamate may also be present in this area. Thus, by using in situ hybridization histochemistry we investigated whether transcripts encoded by genes for the two vesicular glutamate transporters, VGluT1 or VGluT2, were expressed in the VTA. We found that VGluT2 mRNA but not VGluT1 mRNA is expressed in the VTA. Neurons expressing VGluT2 mRNA were differentially distributed throughout the rostro-caudal and medio-lateral aspects of the VTA, with the highest concentration detected in rostro-medial areas. Phenotypic characterization with double in situ hybridization of these neurons indicated that they rarely co-expressed mRNAs for tyrosine hydroxylase (TH, marker for DAergic neurons) or glutamic acid decarboxylase (GAD, marker for GABAergic neurons). Based on the results described here, we concluded that the VTA contains glutamatergic neurons that in their vast majority are clearly non-DAergic and non-GABAergic.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Intramural

MeSH terms

  • Analysis of Variance
  • Animals
  • Brain Mapping
  • Cell Count / methods
  • Glutamic Acid / metabolism*
  • Immunohistochemistry / methods
  • In Situ Hybridization / methods
  • Male
  • Neurons / classification
  • Neurons / metabolism*
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Tyrosine 3-Monooxygenase / genetics
  • Tyrosine 3-Monooxygenase / metabolism
  • Ventral Tegmental Area / cytology*
  • Vesicular Glutamate Transport Protein 2 / genetics
  • Vesicular Glutamate Transport Protein 2 / metabolism
  • gamma-Aminobutyric Acid / metabolism


  • Vesicular Glutamate Transport Protein 2
  • Glutamic Acid
  • gamma-Aminobutyric Acid
  • Tyrosine 3-Monooxygenase