Glutamate neurons in the substantia nigra compacta and retrorubral field



Dopaminergic neurons of the substantia nigra compacta (SNC), ventral tegmental area (VTA) and retrorubral field (RRF) play a role in reward, motivation, learning, memory, and movement. These neurons are intermingled with GABAergic neurons. Recent evidence shows that the VTA contains glutamatergic neurons expressing vesicular glutamate transporter type 2 (VGluT2); some of them co-express tyrosine hydroxylase (TH). Here, we used a combination of radioactive in situ hybridisation and immunohistochemistry to explore whether any of the vesicular glutamate transporters [vesicular glutamate transporter type 1 (VGluT1), VGluT2, or vesicular glutamate transporter type 3 (VGluT3)] were encoded by neurons in the SNC or RRF. We found expression of VGluT2 mRNA, but not of VGluT1 or VGluT3, in the SNC and RRF. These VGluT2 neurons rarely showed TH immunoreactivity. Within the SNC, the VGluT2 neurons were infrequently found at the rostral level, but were often seen at the medial and caudal levels intercalated in the mediolateral portion of the dorsal tier, at a ratio of one VGluT2 neuron per 4.4 TH neurons. At this level, VGluT2 neurons were also found in the adjacent substantia nigra reticulata and substantia nigra pars lateralis. Within the RRF, the VGluT2 neurons showed an increasing rostrocaudal gradient of distribution. The RRF proportion of VGluT2 neurons in relation to TH neurons was constant throughout the rostrocaudal levels, showing an average ratio of one VGluT2 neuron per 1.7 TH neurons. In summary, we provide evidence indicating that the SNC and RRF, which are traditionally considered to be dopaminergic areas, have neurons with the ability to participate in glutamate signaling.