Dysfunction of ventral tegmental area GABA neurons causes mania-like behavior

Mol Psychiatry. 2020 Jun 17. doi: 10.1038/s41380-020-0810-9. Online ahead of print.


The ventral tegmental area (VTA), an important source of dopamine, regulates goal- and reward-directed and social behaviors, wakefulness, and sleep. Hyperactivation of dopamine neurons generates behavioral pathologies. But any roles of non-dopamine VTA neurons in psychiatric illness have been little explored. Lesioning or chemogenetically inhibiting VTA GABAergic (VTAVgat) neurons generated persistent wakefulness with mania-like qualities: locomotor activity was increased; sensitivity to D-amphetamine was heightened; immobility times decreased on the tail suspension and forced swim tests; and sucrose preference increased. Furthermore, after sleep deprivation, mice with lesioned VTAVgat neurons did not catch up on lost sleep, even though they were starting from a sleep-deprived baseline, suggesting that sleep homeostasis was bypassed. The mania-like behaviors, including the sleep loss, were reversed by valproate, and re-emerged when treatment was stopped. Lithium salts and lamotrigine, however, had no effect. Low doses of diazepam partially reduced the hyperlocomotion and fully recovered the immobility time during tail suspension. The mania like-behaviors mostly depended on dopamine, because giving D1/D2/D3 receptor antagonists reduced these behaviors, but also partially on VTAVgat projections to the lateral hypothalamus (LH). Optically or chemogenetically inhibiting VTAVgat terminals in the LH elevated locomotion and decreased immobility time during the tail suspension and forced swimming tests. VTAVgat neurons help set an animal's (and perhaps human's) mental and physical activity levels. Inputs inhibiting VTAVgat neurons intensify wakefulness (increased activity, enhanced alertness and motivation), qualities useful for acute survival. In the extreme, however, decreased or failed inhibition from VTAVgat neurons produces mania-like qualities (hyperactivity, hedonia, decreased sleep).