Projections from the lateral hypothalamus (LH) to the ventral tegmental area (VTA), containing both GABAergic and glutamatergic components, encode conditioned responses and control compulsive reward-seeking behavior. GABAergic neurons in the LH have been shown to mediate appetitive and feeding-related behaviors. Here we show that the GABAergic component of the LH-VTA pathway supports positive reinforcement and place preference, while the glutamatergic component mediates place avoidance. In addition, our results indicate that photoactivation of these projections modulates other behaviors, such as social interaction and perseverant investigation of a novel object. We provide evidence that photostimulation of the GABAergic LH-VTA component, but not the glutamatergic component, increases dopamine (DA) release in the nucleus accumbens (NAc) via inhibition of local VTA GABAergic neurons. Our study clarifies how GABAergic LH inputs to the VTA can contribute to generalized behavioral activation across multiple contexts, consistent with a role in increasing motivational salience. VIDEO ABSTRACT.
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