Acute cocaine exposure weakens GABA(B) receptor-dependent G-protein-gated inwardly rectifying K+ signaling in dopamine neurons of the ventral tegmental area

J Neurosci. 2011 Aug 24;31(34):12251-7. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.0494-11.2011.


Enhanced glutamatergic neurotransmission in dopamine (DA) neurons of the ventral tegmental area (VTA), triggered by a single cocaine injection, represents an early adaptation linked to the more enduring effects of abused drugs that characterize addiction. Here, we examined the impact of in vivo cocaine exposure on metabotropic inhibitory signaling involving G-protein-gated inwardly rectifying K(+) (Girk) channels in VTA DA neurons. Somatodendritic Girk currents evoked by the GABA(B) receptor (GABA(B)R) agonist baclofen were diminished in a dose-dependent manner in mice given a single cocaine injection. This adaptation persisted for 3-4 d, was specific for DA neurons of the VTA, and occurred in parallel with an increase in spontaneous glutamatergic neurotransmission. No additional suppression of GABA(B)R-Girk signaling was observed following repeated cocaine administration. While total Girk2 and GABA(B)R1 mRNA and protein levels were unaltered by cocaine exposure in VTA DA neurons, the cocaine-induced decrease in GABA(B)R-Girk signaling correlated with a reduction in Girk2-containing channels at the plasma membrane in VTA DA neurons. Systemic pretreatment with sulpiride, but not SCH23390 (7-chloro-3-methyl-1-phenyl-1,2,4,5-tetrahydro-3-benzazepin-8-ol), prevented the cocaine-induced suppression of GABA(B)R-Girk signaling, implicating D(2/3) DA receptor activation in this adaptation. The acute cocaine-induced weakening of somatodendritic Girk signaling complements the previously demonstrated cocaine-induced strengthening of glutamatergic neurotransmission, likely contributing to enhanced output of VTA DA neurons during the early stages of addiction.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cocaine / toxicity*
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Dopamine / physiology*
  • Dopamine Uptake Inhibitors / pharmacology
  • Drug Administration Schedule
  • Female
  • G Protein-Coupled Inwardly-Rectifying Potassium Channels / physiology*
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Neurons / drug effects*
  • Neurons / physiology
  • Reaction Time / drug effects
  • Reaction Time / physiology
  • Receptors, GABA-B / physiology*
  • Signal Transduction / drug effects
  • Signal Transduction / physiology*
  • Ventral Tegmental Area / drug effects*
  • Ventral Tegmental Area / metabolism*
  • Ventral Tegmental Area / pathology


  • Dopamine Uptake Inhibitors
  • G Protein-Coupled Inwardly-Rectifying Potassium Channels
  • Receptors, GABA-B
  • Cocaine
  • Dopamine