Dopamine neuron responses depend exponentially on pacemaker interval

J Neurophysiol. 2009 Feb;101(2):926-33. doi: 10.1152/jn.91144.2008. Epub 2008 Dec 10.


Midbrain dopamine neuron activity results from the integration of the responses to metabo- and ionotropic receptors with the postsynaptic excitability of these intrinsic pacemakers. Interestingly, intrinsic pacemaker rate varies greatly between individual dopamine neurons and is subject to short- and long-term regulation. Here responses of substantia nigra dopamine neurons to defined dynamic-clamp stimuli were measured to quantify the impact of cell-to-cell variation in intrinsic pacemaker rate. Then this approach was repeated in single dopamine neurons in which pacemaker rate was altered by activation of muscarinic receptors or current injection. These experiments revealed a dramatic exponential dependence on pacemaker interval for the responses to voltage-gated A-type K+ channels, voltage-independent cation channels and ionotropic synapses. Likewise, responses to native metabotropic (GABAb and mGluR1) inhibitory synapses depended steeply on pacemaker interval. These results show that observed variations in dopamine neuron pacemaker rate are functionally significant because they produce a >10-fold difference in responses to diverse stimuli. Both the magnitude and the mathematical form of the relationship between pacemaker interval and responses were not previously anticipated.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Action Potentials / drug effects
  • Action Potentials / physiology*
  • Animals
  • Animals, Newborn
  • Biological Clocks / physiology*
  • Biophysical Phenomena
  • Dopamine / metabolism*
  • Electric Stimulation
  • Excitatory Amino Acid Antagonists / pharmacology
  • GABA Antagonists / pharmacology
  • In Vitro Techniques
  • Ion Channel Gating / drug effects
  • Ion Channel Gating / physiology
  • Models, Neurological
  • Muscarine / pharmacology
  • Muscarinic Agonists / pharmacology
  • Neural Inhibition / drug effects
  • Neural Inhibition / physiology
  • Neurons / drug effects
  • Neurons / physiology*
  • Nonlinear Dynamics
  • Patch-Clamp Techniques
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Shal Potassium Channels / physiology
  • Substantia Nigra / cytology
  • Synaptic Transmission / drug effects
  • Synaptic Transmission / physiology
  • Time Factors


  • Excitatory Amino Acid Antagonists
  • GABA Antagonists
  • Muscarinic Agonists
  • Shal Potassium Channels
  • Muscarine
  • Dopamine