Frequency- and State-Dependent Network Effects of Electrical Stimulation Targeting the Ventral Tegmental Area in Macaques

Cereb Cortex. 2020 Jun 30;30(8):4281-4296. doi: 10.1093/cercor/bhaa007.


The ventral tegmental area (VTA) is a midbrain structure at the heart of the dopaminergic system underlying adaptive behavior. Endogenous firing rates of dopamine cells in the VTA vary from fast phasic bursts to slow tonic activity. Artificial perturbations of the VTA, through electrical or optogenetic stimulation methods, generate different and sometimes even contrasting behavioral outcomes depending on stimulation parameters such as frequency, amplitude, and pulse width. Here, we investigate the global functional effects of electrical stimulation frequency (10, 20, 50, and 100 Hz) of the VTA in rhesus monkeys. We stimulated 2 animals with chronic electrodes, either awake or anesthetized, while concurrently acquiring whole-brain functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) signals. In the awake state, activity as a function of stimulation frequency followed an inverted U-shape in many cortical and subcortical structures, with highest activity observed at 20 and 50 Hz and lower activity at 10 and 100 Hz. Under anesthesia, the hemodynamic responses in connected brain areas were slightly positive at 10 Hz stimulation, but decreased linearly as a function of higher stimulation frequencies. A speculative explanation for the remarkable frequency dependence of stimulation-induced fMRI activity is that the VTA makes use of different frequency channels to communicate with different postsynaptic sites.

Keywords: Macaca mulatta; Anesthesia; VTA; fMRI; microstimulation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain Mapping / methods
  • Electric Stimulation / methods
  • Female
  • Macaca mulatta
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods
  • Male
  • Ventral Tegmental Area / physiology*