Orexin Modulation of VTA Dopamine Neuron Activity: Relevance to Schizophrenia

Int J Neuropsychopharmacol. 2021 Apr 21;24(4):344-353. doi: 10.1093/ijnp/pyaa080.


Background: The hippocampus is a region consistently implicated in schizophrenia and has been advanced as a therapeutic target for positive, negative, and cognitive deficits associated with the disease. Recently, we reported that the paraventricular nucleus of the thalamus (PVT) works in concert with the ventral hippocampus to regulate dopamine system function; however, the PVT has yet to be investigated as target for the treatment of the disease. Given the dense expression of orexin receptors in the thalamus, we believe these to be a possible target for pharmacological regulation of PVT activity.

Methods: Here we used the methylazoxymethanol acetate (MAM) rodent model, which displays pathological alterations consistent with schizophrenia to determine whether orexin receptor blockade can restore ventral tegmental area dopamine system function. We measured dopamine neuron population activity, using in vivo electrophysiology, following administration of the dual orexin antagonist, TCS 1102 (both intraperitoneal and intracranial into the PVT in MAM- and saline-treated rats), and orexin A and B peptides (intracranial into the PVT in naïve rats).

Results: Aberrant dopamine system function in MAM-treated rats was normalized by the systemic administration of TCS 1102. To investigate the potential site of action, the orexin peptides A and B were administered directly into the PVT, where they significantly increased ventral tegmental area dopamine neuron population activity in control rats. In addition, the direct administration of TCS 1102 into the PVT reproduced the beneficial effects seen with the systemic administration in MAM-treated rats.

Conclusion: Taken together, these data suggest the orexin system may represent a novel site of therapeutic intervention for psychosis via an action in the PVT.

Keywords: Schizophrenia; dopamine; orexins; paraventricular nucleus of the thalamus.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Benzimidazoles / administration & dosage
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Dopamine / metabolism*
  • Male
  • Neurons / drug effects
  • Neurons / metabolism
  • Orexin Receptor Antagonists / administration & dosage
  • Orexin Receptor Antagonists / pharmacology*
  • Orexins / administration & dosage
  • Orexins / pharmacology*
  • Paraventricular Hypothalamic Nucleus* / drug effects
  • Paraventricular Hypothalamic Nucleus* / metabolism
  • Pyrrolidines / administration & dosage
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Schizophrenia* / drug therapy
  • Schizophrenia* / metabolism
  • Ventral Tegmental Area* / drug effects
  • Ventral Tegmental Area* / metabolism


  • Benzimidazoles
  • Orexin Receptor Antagonists
  • Orexins
  • Pyrrolidines
  • TCS 1102
  • Dopamine