The prefrontal cortex (PFC) is involved in higher brain functions altered in schizophrenia. Classical antipsychotic drugs modulate information processing in cortico-limbic circuits via dopamine D2 receptor blockade in nucleus accumbens (NAc) whereas atypical antipsychotic drugs preferentially target cortical serotonin (5-HT) receptors. The brain networks involved in the therapeutic action of atypical drugs are not fully understood. Previous work indicated that medial PFC (mPFC) pyramidal neurons projecting to ventral tegmental area express 5-HT2A receptors suggesting that atypical antipsychotic drugs modulate dopaminergic activity distally, via 5-HT2A receptor (5-HT2A-R) blockade in PFC. Since the mPFC also projects heavily to NAc, we examined whether NAc-projecting pyramidal neurons also express 5-HT2A-R. Using a combination of retrograde tracing experiments and in situ hybridization we report that a substantial proportion of mPFC-NAc pyramidal neurons in rat brain express 5-HT2A-R mRNA in a layer- and area-specific manner (up to 68% in layer V of contralateral cingulate). The functional relevance of 5-HT2A-R to modulate mPFC-NAc projections was examined in dual-probe microdialysis experiments. The application of the preferential 5-HT2A-R agonist DOI into mPFC enhanced glutamate release locally (+66 ± 18%) and in NAc (+74 ± 12%) indicating that cortical 5-HT2A-R activation augments glutamatergic transmission in NAc. Since NAc integrates glutamatergic and dopaminergic inputs, blockade of 5-HT2A-R by atypical drugs may reduce cortical excitatory inputs onto GABAergic neurons of NAc, adding to dopamine D2 receptor blockade. Together with previous observations, the present results suggest that atypical antipsychotic drugs may control the activity of the mesolimbic pathway at cell body and terminal level.
Keywords: Atypical antipsychotics; Dopamine; Mesolimbic pathway; Pyramidal neurons; Schizophrenia; Serotonin receptors.
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