Cannabinoid receptors in the bed nucleus of the stria terminalis control cortical excitation of midbrain dopamine cells in vivo

J Neurosci. 2008 Oct 15;28(42):10496-508. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.2291-08.2008.


The endocannabinoid system is involved in multiple physiological functions including reward. Cannabinoids potently control the activity of midbrain dopamine cells, but the contribution of cortical projections in this phenomenon is unclear. We show that the bed nucleus of the stria terminalis (BNST) efficient relays cortical excitation to dopamine neurons of the ventral tegmental area (VTA). Anatomical and in vivo electrophysiological evidence demonstrate that excitatory projections arising exclusively from the infralimbic cortex converge on BNST neurons, which in turn project to and excite >80% VTA dopamine cells. At the ultrastructural level, cannabinoid type 1 receptors are detected within the BNST on axon terminals arising from the infralimbic cortex. We found that intra-BNST infusion of a cannabinoid agonist inhibits the firing of dopamine cells evoked by stimulation of the infralimbic cortex. Our data identify a new neuronal substrate for the actions of cannabinoids in the reward pathway.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Action Potentials / drug effects
  • Action Potentials / physiology
  • Animals
  • Cannabinoid Receptor Modulators / pharmacology
  • Cerebral Cortex / drug effects
  • Cerebral Cortex / physiology*
  • Dopamine / physiology*
  • Mesencephalon / drug effects
  • Mesencephalon / physiology*
  • Mice
  • Mice, Knockout
  • Neural Pathways / drug effects
  • Neural Pathways / physiology
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Receptor, Cannabinoid, CB1 / agonists
  • Receptor, Cannabinoid, CB1 / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Receptor, Cannabinoid, CB1 / physiology*
  • Septal Nuclei / drug effects
  • Septal Nuclei / physiology*


  • Cannabinoid Receptor Modulators
  • Receptor, Cannabinoid, CB1
  • Dopamine