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Keywords:

  • attention;
  • dopamine;
  • GABA;
  • reward

Abstract

The source of short-latency visual input to midbrain dopaminergic (DA) neurons is not currently known; however, the superior colliculus (SC) is a subcortical visual structure which has response latencies consistently shorter than those recorded for DA neurons in substantia nigra and the ventral tegmental area. To test whether the SC represents a plausible route by which visual information may gain short latency access to the ventral midbrain, the present study examined whether experimental stimulation of the SC can influence the activity of midbrain DA neurons. In urethane-anaesthetized rats, 63 pairs of extracellular recordings were obtained from neurons in the SC and ipsilateral ventral midbrain, before and after local disinhibitory injections of the GABA antagonist bicuculline (20–40 ng/200–400 nL saline) into the SC. Neurons recorded from substantia nigra and the ventral tegmental area were classified as putative DA (25/63, 39.7%) or putative non-DA (38/63, 60.3%). In nearly half the cases (27/63, 42.8%), chemical stimulation of the SC evoked a corresponding increase in neural activity in the ventral midbrain. This excitatory effect did not distinguish between DA and non-DA neurons. In 6/63 cases (9.5%), SC activation elicited a reliable suppression of activity, while the remaining 30/63 cases (47.6%) were unaffected. In almost a third of cases (16/57, 28.1%) intense phasic activation of the SC was associated with correlated phasic activation of neurons in substantia nigra and the ventral tegmental area. These data suggest that the SC is in a position to play an important role in discriminating the appropriate stimulus qualities required to activate DA cells at short latency.