In vivo functional diversity of midbrain dopamine neurons within identified axonal projections

Elife. 2019 Oct 3;8:e48408. doi: 10.7554/eLife.48408.


Functional diversity of midbrain dopamine (DA) neurons ranges across multiple scales, from differences in intrinsic properties and connectivity to selective task engagement in behaving animals. Distinct in vitro biophysical features of DA neurons have been associated with different axonal projection targets. However, it is unknown how this translates to different firing patterns of projection-defined DA subpopulations in the intact brain. We combined retrograde tracing with single-unit recording and labelling in mouse brain to create an in vivo functional topography of the midbrain DA system. We identified differences in burst firing among DA neurons projecting to dorsolateral striatum. Bursting also differentiated DA neurons in the medial substantia nigra (SN) projecting either to dorsal or ventral striatum. We found differences in mean firing rates and pause durations among ventral tegmental area (VTA) DA neurons projecting to lateral or medial shell of nucleus accumbens. Our data establishes a high-resolution functional in vivo landscape of midbrain DA neurons.

Keywords: action potential; axon; burst; dopamine; mouse; neuroscience; pause; striatum.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Action Potentials / physiology
  • Animals
  • Axons / physiology*
  • Corpus Striatum / physiology
  • Dopamine / metabolism*
  • Dopaminergic Neurons / physiology*
  • Mesencephalon / physiology*
  • Mice
  • Nucleus Accumbens / physiology
  • Substantia Nigra / physiology
  • Ventral Tegmental Area / physiology


  • Dopamine