Midbrain dopaminergic neuron activity across alternating brain states of urethane anaesthetized rat

Eur J Neurosci. 2017 Apr;45(8):1068-1077. doi: 10.1111/ejn.13533. Epub 2017 Mar 3.


Midbrain dopaminergic neurons are implicated in the control of motor functions and reward-driven behaviours. The function of this neuronal population is strongly connected with distinct patterns of firing - irregular or bursting, which either maintains basal levels of dopamine (DA) or leads to phasic release, respectively. Heterogeneity of dopaminergic neurons, observed on both structural and functional levels, is also reflected in different responses of DA neurons to changes in global brain states. Preparation of urethane anaesthetized animal is a broadly used model to study brain state dependent activity of neurons. Unfortunately activity of midbrain DA neurons across urethane induced cyclic, spontaneous brain state alternations is poorly described. To fulfil this gap in our knowledge we have performed simultaneous, extracellular recordings of the firing of single putative DA neurons combined with continuous brain state monitoring. We found that during slow wave activity, the firing rate of recorded putative DA neurons was significantly higher compared to firing rates during activated state, both in ventral tegmental area (VTA) and substantia nigra pars compacta (SNc). In the presence of cortical slow waves, putative dopaminergic neurons also intensified bursting activity, but the magnitude of this phenomena differed in respect to the examined region (VTA or SNc). Our results show that activity of DA neurons under urethane anaesthesia is brain-state dependent and emphasize the importance of brain state monitoring during electrophysiological experiments.

Keywords: alternations of brain state; bursting activity; dopaminergic system; neuronal firing; urethane anaesthesia.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Action Potentials / drug effects
  • Action Potentials / physiology
  • Anesthesia
  • Anesthetics, Intravenous / pharmacology*
  • Animals
  • Brain Waves / drug effects
  • Brain Waves / physiology
  • Dopaminergic Neurons / drug effects*
  • Dopaminergic Neurons / physiology*
  • Electrocorticography
  • Male
  • Mesencephalon / drug effects*
  • Mesencephalon / physiology*
  • Microelectrodes
  • Rats, Wistar
  • Urethane / pharmacology*


  • Anesthetics, Intravenous
  • Urethane