Control of the nigrostriatal dopamine neuron activity and motor function by the tail of the ventral tegmental area

Neuropsychopharmacology. 2014 Nov;39(12):2788-98. doi: 10.1038/npp.2014.129. Epub 2014 Jun 4.


Midbrain dopamine neurons are implicated in various psychiatric and neurological disorders. The GABAergic tail of the ventral tegmental area (tVTA), also named the rostromedial tegmental nucleus (RMTg), displays dense projections to the midbrain and exerts electrophysiological control over dopamine cells of the VTA. However, the influence of the tVTA on the nigrostriatal pathway, from the substantia nigra pars compacta (SNc) to the dorsal striatum, and on related functions remains to be addressed. The present study highlights the role played by the tVTA as a GABA brake for the nigrostriatal system, demonstrating a critical influence over motor functions. Using neuroanatomical approaches with tract tracing and electron microscopy, we reveal the presence of a tVTA-SNc-dorsal striatum pathway. Using in vivo electrophysiology, we prove that the tVTA is a major inhibitory control center for SNc dopamine cells. Using behavioral approaches, we demonstrate that the tVTA controls rotation behavior, motor coordination, and motor skill learning. The motor enhancements observed after ablation of the tVTA are in this regard comparable with the performance-enhancing properties of amphetamine, a drug used in doping. These findings demonstrate that the tVTA is a major GABA brake for nigral dopamine systems and nigrostriatal functions, and they raise important questions about how the tVTA is integrated within the basal ganglia circuitry. They also warrant further research on the tVTA's role in motor and dopamine-related pathological contexts such as Parkinson's disease.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Central Nervous System Stimulants / pharmacology
  • Dextroamphetamine / pharmacology
  • Dopaminergic Neurons / drug effects
  • Dopaminergic Neurons / physiology*
  • Learning / physiology
  • Male
  • Microelectrodes
  • Microscopy, Electron
  • Neural Inhibition / physiology
  • Neural Pathways / anatomy & histology
  • Neural Pathways / drug effects
  • Neural Pathways / physiology
  • Neuroanatomical Tract-Tracing Techniques
  • Psychomotor Performance / drug effects
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology*
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Rotation
  • Substantia Nigra / anatomy & histology
  • Substantia Nigra / drug effects
  • Substantia Nigra / physiology*
  • Ventral Tegmental Area / anatomy & histology
  • Ventral Tegmental Area / drug effects
  • Ventral Tegmental Area / physiology*


  • Central Nervous System Stimulants
  • Dextroamphetamine