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Keywords:

  • dopamine;
  • GABA;
  • glutamate;
  • knockout mice;
  • mu opioid receptor;
  • ventral tegmental area

Abstract

Mu opioid receptor (MOR) regulation of somatodendritic dopamine neurotransmission in the ventral tegmental area (VTA) was investigated using conventional microdialysis in freely moving rats and mice. Reverse dialysis of the MOR agonist DAMGO (50 and 100 μm) into the VTA of rats produced a concentration-dependent increase in dialysate dopamine concentrations. Basal dopamine overflow in the VTA was unaltered in mice lacking the MOR gene. However, basal γ-aminobutyric acid (GABA) overflow in these animals was significantly increased, whereas glutamate overflow was decreased. Intra-VTA perfusion of DAMGO into wild-type (WT) mice increased dopamine overflow. GABA concentrations were decreased, whereas glutamate concentrations in the VTA were unaltered. Consistent with the loss of MOR, no effect of DAMGO was observed in MOR knockout (KO) mice. These data provide the first direct demonstration of tonically active MOR systems in the VTA that regulate basal glutamatergic and GABAergic neurotransmission in this region. We hypothesize that increased GABAergic neurotransmission following constitutive deletion of MOR is due to the elimination of a tonic inhibitory influence of MOR on GABAergic neurons in the VTA, whereas decreased glutamatergic neurotransmission in MOR KO mice is a consequence of intensified GABA tone on glutamatergic neurons and/or terminals. As a consequence, somatodendritic dopamine release is unaltered. Furthermore, MOR KO mice do not exhibit the positive correlation between basal dopamine levels and the glutamate/GABA ratio observed in WT mice. Together, our findings indicate a critical role of VTA MOR in maintaining an intricate balance between excitatory and inhibitory inputs to dopaminergic neurons.