Increased phasic dopamine signaling in the mesolimbic pathway during social defeat in rats

Neuroscience. 2009 Jun 16;161(1):3-12. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroscience.2009.03.023. Epub 2009 Mar 17.


While reward-dependent facilitation of phasic dopamine signaling is well documented at both the cell bodies and terminals, little is known regarding fast dopamine transmission under aversive conditions. Exposure to aggressive confrontation is extremely aversive and stressful for many species including rats. The present study used fast-scan cyclic voltammetry and multiunit recording to determine if aggressive encounters and subsequent social defeat affect burst firing of ventral tegmental area (VTA) dopamine neurons and accumbal dopamine transients in defeated rats. Significant increases in the frequency of transient dopamine release were observed during interactions with an aggressive rat but not with a familiar cage mate. In agreement with voltammetric results, significant increases in burst frequency were detected in the VTA dopamine firing patterns during an aggressive confrontation; however, the number of spikes per burst remained unchanged. We found that neurons with lower burst rates under home cage conditions did not switch from nonbursting to bursting types, while neurons with higher burst levels showed amplified increases in bursting. This study demonstrates for the first time that aggressive confrontations in defeated rats are associated with increases in phasic dopamine transmission in the mesolimbic pathway.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Action Potentials
  • Aggression
  • Animals
  • Dominance-Subordination*
  • Dopamine / physiology*
  • Electrophysiology
  • Male
  • Nucleus Accumbens / physiology*
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Signal Transduction
  • Stress, Psychological / physiopathology*
  • Stress, Psychological / psychology
  • Synaptic Transmission
  • Ventral Tegmental Area / physiology*


  • Dopamine