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Nicotinic cholinergic receptors in VTA glutamate neurons modulate excitatory transmission

By Yijin Yan, Can Peng, Matthew C. Arvin, Xiao-Tao Jin, Veronica J Kim, Matthew D Ramsey, Yong Wang, Sambashiva Banala, David L. Wokosin, J Michael McIntosh, Luke Lavis, Ryan M. Drenan

Posted 24 Feb 2018
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/271205 (published DOI: 10.1016/j.celrep.2018.04.062)

Ventral tegmental area (VTA) glutamate neurons are important components of brain reward circuitry, but whether they are subject to cholinergic modulation is unknown. To study this, we used an array of molecular, physiological, and photostimulation techniques to examine nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChRs) in VTA glutamate neurons. VTA neurons positive for the vesicular glutamate transporter 2 (VGLUT2+) are responsive to acetylcholine (ACh) released from mesopontine cholinergic axons. VTA VGLUT2+ neurons express mRNA and protein subunits known to comprise typical heteromeric nAChRs. Electrophysiology, coupled with 2-photon microscopy and laser flash photolysis of a photoactivatable nicotine probe, was used to demonstrate nAChR functional activity in the somatodendritic subcellular compartment of VTA VGLUT2+ neurons. Finally, optogenetic isolation of intrinsic VTA glutamatergic microcircuits demonstrated that nicotine potently modulates excitatory transmission within the VTA. These results indicate that VTA glutamate neurons are modulated by cholinergic mechanisms and participate in the cascade of physiological responses to nicotine exposure.

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