Presence of ethanol-sensitive and ethanol-insensitive glycine receptors in the ventral tegmental area and prefrontal cortex in mice

Br J Pharmacol. 2021 Dec;178(23):4691-4707. doi: 10.1111/bph.15649. Epub 2021 Sep 17.


Background and purpose: Glycine receptors composed of α1 and β subunits are primarily found in the spinal cord and brainstem and are potentiated by ethanol (10-100 mM). However, much less is known about the presence, composition and ethanol sensitivity of these receptors in higher CNS regions. Here, we examined two regions of the brain reward system, the ventral tegmental area (VTA) and the prefrontal cortex (PFC), to determine their glycine receptor subunit composition and sensitivity to ethanol.

Experimental approach: We used Western blot, immunohistochemistry and electrophysiological techniques in three different models: wild-type C57BL/6, glycine receptor subunit α1 knock-in and glycine receptor subunit α2 knockout mice.

Key results: Similar levels of α and β receptor subunits were detected in both brain regions, and electrophysiological recordings demonstrated the presence of glycine-activated currents in both areas. Sensitivity of glycine receptors to glycine was lower in the PFC compared with VTA. Picrotoxin only partly blocked the glycine-activated current in the PFC and VTA, indicating that both regions express heteromeric αβ receptors. Glycine receptors in VTA neurons, but not in PFC neurons, were potentiated by ethanol.

Conclusion and implications: Glycine receptors in VTA neurons from WT and α2 KO mice were potentiated by ethanol, but not in neurons from the α1 KI mice, supporting the conclusion that α1 glycine receptors are predominantly expressed in the VTA. By contrast, glycine receptors in PFC neurons were not potentiated in any of the mouse models studied, suggesting the presence of α2/α3/α4, rather than α1 glycine receptor subunits.

Keywords: PFC; VTA; ethanol; glycine receptors; reward system; subunit composition.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Ethanol / pharmacology
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Prefrontal Cortex / metabolism
  • Receptors, Glycine* / metabolism
  • Ventral Tegmental Area* / metabolism


  • Receptors, Glycine
  • Ethanol