The mesolimbic dopamine (DA) system plays an integral role in incentive motivation and reward seeking and a growing body of evidence identifies signal transduction at cannabinoid receptors as a critical modulator of this system. Indeed, administration of exogenous cannabinoids results in burst firing of DA neurons of the ventral tegmental area and increases extracellular DA in the nucleus accumbens (NAcc). Implementation of fast-scan cyclic voltammetry (FSCV) confirms the ability of cannabinoids to augment DA within the NAcc on a subsecond timescale. The use of FSCV along with newly developed highly selective pharmacological compounds advances our understanding of how cannabinoids influence DA transmission and highlights a role for endocannabinoid-modulated subsecond DAergic activation in the incentive motivational properties of not only external, but also internal reward-predictive cues. For example, our laboratory has recently demonstrated that in mice responding under a fixed-interval (FI) schedule for food reinforcement, fluctuations in NAcc DA signal the principal cue predictive of reinforcer availability - time. That is, as the interval progresses, NAcc DA levels decline leading to accelerated food seeking and the resulting characteristic FI scallop pattern of responding. Importantly, administration of WIN 55,212-2, a synthetic cannabinoid agonist, or JZL184, an indirect cannabinoid agonist, increases DA levels during the interval and disrupts this pattern of responding. Along with a wealth of other reports, these results illustrate the role of cannabinoid receptor activation in the regulation of DA transmission and the control of temporally guided reward seeking. The current review will explore the striatal beat frequency model of interval timing as it pertains to cannabinoid signaling and propose a neurocircuitry through which this system modulates interoceptive time cues.
Keywords: cannabinoids; cues; dopamine; endocannabinoids; fixed interval; reward-seeking behavior.