Ventral tegmental area: cellular heterogeneity, connectivity and behaviour

Nat Rev Neurosci. 2017 Feb;18(2):73-85. doi: 10.1038/nrn.2016.165. Epub 2017 Jan 5.


Dopamine-releasing neurons of the ventral tegmental area (VTA) have central roles in reward-related and goal-directed behaviours. VTA dopamine-releasing neurons are heterogeneous in their afferent and efferent connectivity and, in some cases, release GABA or glutamate in addition to dopamine. Recent findings show that motivational signals arising from the VTA can also be carried by non-dopamine-releasing projection neurons, which have their own specific connectivity. Both dopamine-releasing and non-dopamine-releasing VTA neurons integrate afferent signals with local inhibitory or excitatory inputs to generate particular output firing patterns. Various individual inputs, outputs and local connections have been shown to be sufficient to generate reward- or aversion-related behaviour, indicative of the impressive contribution of this small population of neurons to behaviour.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Dopaminergic Neurons / physiology
  • GABAergic Neurons / physiology
  • Glutamic Acid / physiology
  • Models, Neurological
  • Motivation / physiology
  • Neural Pathways / anatomy & histology*
  • Neural Pathways / physiology*
  • Reward*
  • Synaptic Transmission / physiology
  • Ventral Tegmental Area / anatomy & histology*
  • Ventral Tegmental Area / physiology*


  • Glutamic Acid