A role of local VTA GABAergic neurons in mediating dopamine neuron response to nicotine
The local circuitry of the tegmental area (VTA) consists primarily of dopamine (DA) and GABA neurons. Interactions between DA and GABA neurons are critical for regulating DA neuron activity, and thus DA efflux throughout the brain. One striking example that demonstrates the significance of local interactions between DA and GABA neurons is related to nicotine reinforcement.
The dynamics of neuronal excitability determine the neuron’s response to stimuli, its synchronization and resonance properties and, ultimately, the computations it performs in the brain. We investigated the dynamical mechanisms underlying the excitability type of dopamine (DA) neurons, using a conductance-based biophysical model, and its regulation by intrinsic and synaptic currents. Calibrating the model to reproduce low frequency tonic firing results in N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) excitation balanced by γ-Aminobutyric acid (GABA)-mediated inhibition and leads to type I excitable behavior characterized by a continuous decrease in firing frequency in response to hyperpolarizing currents. Furthermore, we analyzed how excitability type of the DA neuron model is influenced by changes in the intrinsic current composition. A subthreshold sodium current is necessary for a continuous frequency decrease during application of a negative current, and the low-frequency “balanced” state during simultaneous activation of NMDA and GABA receptors. Blocking this current switches the neuron to type II characterized by the abrupt onset of repetitive firing. Enhancing the anomalous rectifier Ih current also switches the excitability to type II. Key characteristics of synaptic conductances that may be observed in vivo also change the type of excitability: a depolarized γ-Aminobutyric acid receptor (GABAR) reversal potential or co-activation of α-amino-3-hydroxy-5-methyl-4-isoxazolepropionic acid receptors (AMPARs) leads to an abrupt frequency drop to zero, which is typical for type II excitability. Coactivation of N-methyl-D-aspartate receptors (NMDARs) together with AMPARs and GABARs shifts the type I/II boundary toward more hyperpolarized GABAR reversal potentials. To better understand how altering each of the aforementioned currents leads to changes in excitability profile of DA neuron, we provide a thorough dynamical analysis. Collectively, these results imply that type I excitability in dopamine neurons might be important for low firing rates and fine-tuning basal dopamine levels, while switching excitability to type II during NMDAR and AMPAR activation may facilitate a transient increase in dopamine concentration, as type II neurons are more amenable to synchronization by mutual excitation.
The prefrontal cortex (PFC) plays an important role in cognitive processes, including access to consciousness. The PFC receives significant cholinergic innervation and nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChRs) contribute greatly to the effects of acetylcholine signaling. Using in vivo two-photon imaging of both awake and anesthetized mice, we recorded spontaneous, ongoing neuronal activity in layer II/III in the PFC of WT mice and mice deleted for different nAChR subunits. As in humans, this activity is characterized by synchronous ultraslow fluctuations and neuronal synchronicity is disrupted by light general anesthesia. Both the α7 and β2 nAChR subunits play an important role in the generation of ultraslow fluctuations that occur to a different extent during quiet wakefulness and light general anesthesia. The β2 subunit is specifically required for synchronized activity patterns. Furthermore, chronic application of mecamylamine, an antagonist of nAChRs, disrupts the generation of ultraslow fluctuations. Our findings provide new insight into the ongoing spontaneous activity in the awake and anesthetized state, and the role of cholinergic neurotransmission in the orchestration of cognitive functions