Ventral tegmental area GABAergic inhibition of cholinergic interneurons in the ventral nucleus accumbens shell promotes reward reinforcement

Nat Neurosci. 2021 Oct;24(10):1414-1428. doi: 10.1038/s41593-021-00898-2. Epub 2021 Aug 12.


The long-range GABAergic input from the ventral tegmental area (VTA) to the nucleus accumbens (NAc) is relatively understudied, and therefore its role in reward processing has remained unknown. In the present study, we show, in both male and female mice, that long-range GABAergic projections from the VTA to the ventral NAc shell, but not to the dorsal NAc shell or NAc core, are engaged in reward and reinforcement behavior. We show that this GABAergic projection exclusively synapses on to cholinergic interneurons (CINs) in the ventral NAc shell, thereby serving a specialized function in modulating reinforced reward behavior through the inhibition of ventral NAc shell CINs. These findings highlight the diversity in the structural and functional topography of VTA GABAergic projections, and their neuromodulatory interactions across the dorsoventral gradient of the NAc shell. They also further our understanding of neuronal circuits that are directly implicated in neuropsychiatric conditions such as depression and addiction.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain Mapping
  • Cholinergic Neurons / drug effects*
  • Conditioning, Operant / drug effects
  • Electrophysiological Phenomena
  • Female
  • Interneurons / drug effects
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Nucleus Accumbens / drug effects*
  • Reinforcement, Psychology*
  • Reward
  • Self Stimulation
  • Ventral Tegmental Area / physiopathology*
  • gamma-Aminobutyric Acid / physiology*


  • gamma-Aminobutyric Acid