Diazepam is a benzodiazepine receptor agonist with anxiolytic and addictive properties. Although most drugs of abuse increase the level of release of dopamine in the nucleus accumbens, here we show that diazepam not only causes the opposite effect but also prevents amphetamine from enhancing dopamine release. We used 20 min sampling in vivo microdialysis and subsecond fast-scan cyclic voltammetry recordings at carbon-fiber microelectrodes to show that diazepam caused a dose-dependent decrease in the level of tonic and electrically evoked dopamine release in the nucleus accumbens of urethane-anesthetized adult male Swiss mice. In fast-scan cyclic voltammetry assays, dopamine release was evoked by electrical stimulation of the ventral tegmental area. We observed that 2 and 3 mg of diazepam/kg reduced the level of electrically evoked dopamine release, and this effect was reversed by administration of the benzodiazepine receptor antagonist flumazenil in doses of 2.5 and 5 mg/kg, respectively. No significant effects on measures of dopamine re-uptake were observed. Cyclic voltammetry experiments further showed that amphetamine (5 mg/kg, intraperitoneally) caused a significant increase in the level of dopamine release and in the half-life for dopamine re-uptake. Diazepam (2 mg/kg) significantly weakened the effect of amphetamine on dopamine release without affecting dopamine re-uptake. These results suggest that the pharmacological effects of benzodiazepines have a dopaminergic component. In addition, our findings challenge the classic view that all drugs of abuse cause dopamine release in the nucleus accumbens and suggest that benzodiazepines could be useful in the treatment of addiction to other drugs that increase the level of dopamine release, such as cocaine, amphetamines, and nicotine.
Keywords: Anticonvulsant; Anxiolytic; Dopaminergic neurons; Electrochemistry; GABA; Nucleus accumbens core; Ventral tegmental area.