Circuit specificity in the inhibitory architecture of the VTA regulates cocaine-induced behavior

Nat Neurosci. 2017 Mar;20(3):438-448. doi: 10.1038/nn.4482. Epub 2017 Jan 23.


Afferent inputs to the ventral tegmental area (VTA) control reward-related behaviors through regulation of dopamine neuron activity. The nucleus accumbens (NAc) provides one of the most prominent projections to the VTA; however, recent studies have provided conflicting evidence regarding the function of these inhibitory inputs. Using optogenetics, cell-specific ablation, whole cell patch-clamp and immuno-electron microscopy, we found that NAc inputs synapsed directly onto dopamine neurons, preferentially activating GABAB receptors. GABAergic inputs from the NAc and local VTA GABA neurons were differentially modulated and activated separate receptor populations in dopamine neurons. Genetic deletion of GABAB receptors from dopamine neurons in adult mice did not affect general or morphine-induced locomotor activity, but markedly increased cocaine-induced locomotion. Collectively, our findings demonstrate notable selectivity in the inhibitory architecture of the VTA and suggest that long-range GABAergic inputs to dopamine neurons fundamentally regulate behavioral responses to cocaine.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cocaine / pharmacology*
  • Dopaminergic Neurons / physiology
  • Dopaminergic Neurons / ultrastructure
  • Female
  • Gene Knockdown Techniques
  • Locomotion / drug effects
  • Locomotion / physiology
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Morphine / pharmacology
  • Neural Inhibition / physiology*
  • Nucleus Accumbens / physiology*
  • Receptor, Adenosine A1 / physiology
  • Receptors, GABA-A / physiology
  • Receptors, GABA-B / biosynthesis
  • Receptors, GABA-B / genetics
  • Receptors, GABA-B / physiology*
  • Reward*
  • Synaptic Transmission / physiology
  • Ventral Tegmental Area / physiology*
  • Ventral Tegmental Area / ultrastructure


  • Receptor, Adenosine A1
  • Receptors, GABA-A
  • Receptors, GABA-B
  • Morphine
  • Cocaine