Ventral tegmental area (VTA) dopamine (DA) neurons have been implicated in reward, aversion, salience, cognition, and several neuropsychiatric disorders. Optogenetic approaches involving transgenic Cre-driver mouse lines provide powerful tools for dissecting DA-specific functions. However, the emerging complexity of VTA circuits requires Cre-driver mouse lines that restrict transgene expression to a precisely defined cell population. Because of recent work reporting that VTA DA neurons projecting to the lateral habenula release GABA, but not DA, we performed an extensive anatomical, molecular, and functional characterization of prominent DA transgenic mouse driver lines. We find that transgenes under control of the tyrosine hydroxylase, but not the dopamine transporter, promoter exhibit dramatic non-DA cell-specific expression patterns within and around VTA nuclei. Our results demonstrate how Cre expression in unintentionally targeted cells in transgenic mouse lines can confound the interpretation of supposedly cell-type-specific experiments. This Matters Arising paper is in response to Stamatakis et al. (2013), published in Neuron. See also the Matters Arising Response paper by Stuber et al. (2015), published concurrently with this Matters Arising in Neuron.
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