An atlas of transcriptionally defined cell populations in the rat ventral tegmental area

Cell Rep. 2022 Apr 5;39(1):110616. doi: 10.1016/j.celrep.2022.110616.


The ventral tegmental area (VTA) is a complex brain region that is essential for reward function and frequently implicated in neuropsychiatric disease. While decades of research on VTA function have focused on dopamine neurons, recent evidence has identified critical roles for GABAergic and glutamatergic neurons in reward processes. Additionally, although subsets of VTA neurons express genes involved in the synthesis and transport of multiple neurotransmitters, characterization of these combinatorial populations has largely relied on low-throughput methods. To comprehensively define the molecular architecture of the VTA, we performed single-nucleus RNA sequencing on 21,600 cells from the rat VTA. Analysis of neuronal subclusters identifies selective markers for dopamine and combinatorial neurons, reveals expression profiles for receptors targeted by drugs of abuse, and demonstrates population-specific enrichment of gene sets linked to brain disorders. These results highlight the heterogeneity of the VTA and provide a resource for further exploration of VTA gene expression.

Keywords: CP: Neuroscience; dopamine; neurotransmitter co-release; snRNA-seq; transcriptomics; ventral tegmental area.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Dopamine / metabolism
  • Dopaminergic Neurons* / physiology
  • Neurotransmitter Agents / metabolism
  • Rats
  • Reward
  • Ventral Tegmental Area* / metabolism


  • Neurotransmitter Agents
  • Dopamine