Skip to main content


Click here for PubMed author search

Selenoprotein P Modulates Methamphetamine Enhancement of Vesicular Dopamine Release in Mouse Nucleus Accumbens Via Dopamine D2 Receptors

Daniel J Torres 1 2, Jordan T Yorgason 3, Catherine C Mitchell 1, Ayaka Hagiwara 1, Marilou A Andres 2, Suguru Kurokawa 4, Scott C Steffensen 5, Frederick P Bellinger 1


Dopamine (DA) transmission plays a critical role in processing rewarding and pleasurable stimuli. Increased synaptic DA release in the nucleus accumbens (NAc) is a central component of the physiological effects of drugs of abuse. The essential trace element selenium mitigates methamphetamine-induced neurotoxicity. Selenium can also alter DA production and turnover. However, studies have not directly addressed the role of selenium in DA neurotransmission. Selenoprotein P (SELENOP1) requires selenium for synthesis and transports selenium to the brain, in addition to performing other functions. We investigated whether SELENOP1 directly impacts (1) DA signaling and (2) the dopaminergic response to methamphetamine. We used fast-scan cyclic voltammetry to investigate DA transmission and the response to methamphetamine in NAc slices from C57/BL6J SELENOP1 KO mice. Recordings from SELENOP1 KO mouse slices revealed reduced levels of evoked DA release and slower DA uptake rates. Methamphetamine caused a dramatic increase in vesicular DA release in SELENOP1 KO mice not observed in wild-type controls. This elevated response was attenuated by SELENOP1 application through a selenium-independent mechanism involving SELENOP1-apolipoprotein E receptor 2 (ApoER2) interaction to promote dopamine D2 receptor (D2R) function. In wild-type mice, increased vesicular DA release in response to methamphetamine was revealed by blocking D2R activation, indicating that the receptor suppresses the methamphetamine-induced vesicular increase. Our data provide evidence of a direct physiological role for SELENOP1 in the dopaminergic response to methamphetamine and suggest a signaling role for the protein in DA transmission.

Spontaneous Formation of Melanin from Dopamine in the Presence of Iron

David M Hedges 1 2, Jordan T Yorgason 3 4, Andrew W Perez 4, Nathan D Schilaty 4 5 6 7, Benjamin M Williams 4, Richard K Watt 2, Scott C Steffensen 4 5


Parkinson's disease is associated with degeneration of neuromelanin (NM)-containing substantia nigra dopamine (DA) neurons and subsequent decreases in striatal DA transmission. Dopamine spontaneously forms a melanin through a process called melanogenesis. The present study examines conditions that promote/prevent DA melanogenesis. The kinetics, intermediates, and products of DA conversion to melanin in vitro, and DA melanogenesis under varying levels of Fe3+, pro-oxidants, and antioxidants were examined. The rate of melanogenesis for DA was substantially greater than related catecholamines norepinephrine and epinephrine and their precursor amino acids tyrosine and l-Dopa as measured by UV-IR spectrophotometry. Dopamine melanogenesis was concentration dependent on the pro-oxidant species and Fe3+. Melanogenesis was enhanced by the pro-oxidant hydrogen peroxide (EC50 = 500 μM) and decreased by the antioxidants ascorbate (IC50 = 10 μM) and glutathione (GSH; IC50 = 5 μM). Spectrophotometric results were corroborated by tuning a fast-scan cyclic voltammetry system to monitor DA melanogenesis. Evoked DA release in striatal brain slices resulted in NM formation that was prevented by GSH. These findings suggest that DA melanogenesis occurs spontaneously under physiologically-relevant conditions of oxidative stress and that NM may act as a marker of past exposure to oxidative stress.

Corticotropin releasing factor, but not alcohol, modulates norepinephrine release in the rat central nucleus of the amygdala

David M Hedges 1, Jordan T Yorgason 2, James N Brundage 3, Hillary A Wadsworth 3, Benjamin Williams 3, Scott C Steffensen 3, Marisa Roberto 4


Alcohol misuse and dependence is a widespread health problem. The central nucleus of the amygdala (CeA) plays important roles in both the anxiety associated with alcohol (ethanol) dependence and the increased alcohol intake that is observed during withdrawal in dependent animals. We and others have shown the essential involvement of the corticotropin releasing factor (CRF) system in alcohol's synaptic effects on the CeA and in the development of ethanol dependence. Another system that has been shown to be critically involved in the molecular underpinnings of alcohol dependence is the norepinephrine (NE) system originating in the locus coeruleus. Both the CRF and NE systems act in concert to facilitate a stress response: central amygdalar afferents release CRF in the locus coeruleus promoting widespread release of NE. In this study, we are the first to use fast-scan cyclic voltammetry to classify local electrically-evoked NE release in the CeA and to determine if acute alcohol and CRF modulate it. Evoked NE release is action potential dependent, is abolished after depletion of monoaminergic vesicles, differs pharmacologically from dopamine release, is insensitive to acute alcohol, and decreases in response to locally applied CRF. Taken together, these results indicate that NE release in the CeA is released canonically in a vesicular-dependent manner, and that while acute alcohol does not directly alter NE release, CRF decreases it. Our results suggest that CRF acts locally on NE terminals as negative feedback and potentially prevents hyperactivation of the CRF-norepinephrine stress pathway.

Methamphetamine increases dopamine release in the nucleus accumbens through calcium-dependent processes

Jordan T Yorgason 1, David M Hedges 2, J Daniel Obray 1, Eun Young Jang 3, Kyle B Bills 1, Mark Woodbury 1, Ben Williams 1, Mandy J Parsons 1, Marilou A Andres 4, Scott C Steffensen 5


Rationale: Methamphetamine (METH) enhances exocytotic dopamine (DA) signals and induces DA transporter (DAT)-mediated efflux in brain striatal regions such as the nucleus accumbens (NAc). Blocking sigma receptors prevents METH-induced DA increases. Sigma receptor activation induces Ca2+ release from intracellular stores, which may be responsible for METH-induced DA increases.

Objectives: The role of intracellular and extracellular Ca2+ in METH-induced DA increases and associated behavior was tested.

Methods: METH-induced Ca2+ release was measured in hNPC-derived DA cells using ratiometric Ca2+ imaging. In mouse brain slices, fast-scan cyclic voltammetry was used to measure METH effects on two measures of dopamine: electrically stimulated and DAT-mediated efflux. Intracellular and extracellular Ca2+ was removed through pharmacological blockade of Ca2+ permeable channels (Cd2+ and IP3 sensitive channels), intracellular Ca2+ chelation (BAPTA-AM), or non-inclusion (zero Ca2+). Lastly, METH effects on dopamine-mediated locomotor behavior were tested in rats. Rats received intra-NAc injections of ACSF or 2-aminoethoxydiphenyl borate (2-APB; IP3 receptor blocker) and intraperitoneal METH (5 mg/kg) to test the role of intracellular Ca2+ release in DA-mediated behaviors.

Results: Reducing Ca2+ extracellular levels and Ca2+ release from intracellular stores prevented intracellular Ca2+ release. Intracellular Ca2+ chelation and blocking intracellular Ca2+ release reduced METH effects on voltammetric measures of dopamine. Blocking intracellular Ca2+ release via 2-APB resulted in increased METH-induced circling behavior.

Conclusions: METH induces NAc DA release through intracellular Ca2+ activity. Blocking intracellular Ca2+ release prevents METH effects on DA signals and related behavior.

Mechanical stimulation of cervical vertebrae modulates the discharge activity of ventral tegmental area neurons and dopamine release in the nucleus accumbens

Kyle B Bills 1, J Daniel Obray 1, Travis Clarke 1, Mandy Parsons 1, James Brundage 1, Chae Ha Yang 2, Hee Young Kim 2, Jordan T Yorgason 1, Jonathan D Blotter 3, Scott C Steffensen 4


Background: Growing evidence suggests that mechanical stimulation modulates substrates in the supraspinal central nervous system (CNS) outside the canonical somatosensory circuits.

Objective/methods: We evaluate mechanical stimulation applied to the cervical spine at the C7-T1 level (termed "MStim") on neurons and neurotransmitter release in the mesolimbic dopamine (DA) system, an area implicated in reward and motivation, utilizing electrophysiological, pharmacological, neurochemical and immunohistochemical techniques in Wistar rats.

Results: Low frequency (45-80 Hz), but not higher frequency (115 Hz), MStim inhibited the firing rate of ventral tegmental area (VTA) GABA neurons (52.8% baseline; 450 s) while increasing the firing rate of VTA DA neurons (248% baseline; 500 s). Inactivation of the nucleus accumbens (NAc), or systemic or in situ antagonism of delta opioid receptors (DORs), blocked MStim inhibition of VTA GABA neuron firing rate. MStim enhanced both basal (178.4% peak increase at 60 min) and evoked DA release in NAc (135.0% peak increase at 40 min), which was blocked by antagonism of DORs or acetylcholine release in the NAc. MStim enhanced c-FOS expression in the NAc, but inhibited total expression in the VTA, and induced translocation of DORs to neuronal membranes in the NAc.

Conclusion: These findings demonstrate that MStim modulates neuron firing and DA release in the mesolimbic DA system through endogenous opioids and acetylcholine in the NAc. These findings demonstrate the need to explore more broadly the extra-somatosensory effects of peripheral mechanoreceptor activation and the specific role for mechanoreceptor-based therapies in the treatment of substance abuse.

Alpha6-containing nicotinic acetylcholine receptor is a highly sensitive target of alcohol

Fenfei Gao 1, Dejie Chen 2, Xiaokuang Ma 1, Sterling Sudweeks 3, Jordan T Yorgason 4, Ming Gao 5, Dharshaun Turner 5, Jason Brek Eaton 5, J Michael McIntosh 6, Ronald J Lukas 5, Paul Whiteaker 5, Yongchang Chang 5, Scott C Steffensen 4, Jie Wu 7


Alcohol use disorder (AUD) is a serious public health problem that results in tremendous social, legal and medical costs to society. Unlike other addictive drugs, there is no specific molecular target for ethanol (EtOH). Here, we report a novel molecular target that mediates EtOH effects at concentrations below those that cause legally-defined inebriation. Using patch-clamp recording of human α6*-nicotinic acetylcholine receptor (α6*-nAChR) function when heterologously expressed in SH-EP1 human epithelial cells, we found that 0.1-5 mM EtOH significantly enhances α6*-nAChR-mediated currents with effects that are dependent on both EtOH and nicotine concentrations. EtOH exposure increased both whole-cell current rising slope and decay constants. This EtOH modulation was selective for α6*-nAChRs since it did not affect α3β4-, α4β2-, or α7-nAChRs. In addition, 5 mM EtOH also increased the frequency and amplitude of dopaminergic neuron transients in mouse brain nucleus accumbens slices, that were blocked by the α6*-nAChR antagonist, α-conotoxin MII, suggesting a role for native α6*-nAChRs in low-dose EtOH effects. Collectively, our data suggest that α6*-nAChRs are sensitive targets mediating low-dose EtOH effects through a positive allosteric mechanism, which provides new insight into mechanisms involved in pharmacologically-relevant alcohol effects contributing to AUD.

Chronic Social Isolation Stress during Peri-Adolescence Alters Presynaptic Dopamine Terminal Dynamics via Augmentation in Accumbal Dopamine Availability

Anushree N Karkhanis 1, Amy C Leach, Jordan T Yorgason 2, Ayse Uneri, Samuel Barth, Farr Niere, Nancy J Alexander, Jeffrey L Weiner, Brian A McCool, Kimberly F Raab-Graham, Mark J Ferris, Sara R Jones


Chronic peri-adolescent stress in humans increases risk to develop a substance use disorder during adulthood. Rats reared in social isolation during peri-adolescence (aSI; 1 rat/cage) period show greater ethanol and cocaine intake compared to group housed (aGH; 4 rats/cage) rats. In addition, aSI rats have a heightened dopamine response in the nucleus accumbens (NAc) to rewarding and aversive stimuli. Furthermore, single pulse electrical stimulation in slices containing NAc core elicits greater dopamine release in aSI rats. Here, we further investigated dopamine release kinetics and machinery following aSI. Dopamine release, across a wide range of stimulation intensities and frequencies, was significantly greater in aSI rats. Interestingly, subthreshold intensity stimulations also resulted in measurable dopamine release in accumbal slices from aSI but not aGH rats. Extracellular [Ca2+] manipulations revealed augmented calcium sensitivity of dopamine release in aSI rats. The readily releasable pools of dopamine, examined by bath application of Ro-04-1284/000, a vesicular monoamine transporter 2 (VMAT2) inhibitor, were depleted faster in aGH rats. Western blot analysis of release machinery proteins (VMAT2, Synaptogyrin-3, Syntaxin-1, and Munc13-3) showed no difference between the two groups. Tyrosine hydroxylase (TH) protein expression levels, however, were elevated in aSI rats. The greater dopamine release could potentially be explained by higher levels of TH, the rate-limiting step for dopamine synthesis. This augmented responsivity of the dopamine system and heightened dopamine availability post-aSI may lead to an increased risk of addiction vulnerability.

Glutamate Transmission to Ventral Tegmental Area GABA Neurons Is Altered by Acute and Chronic Ethanol

Stephanie B Williams 1, Jordan T Yorgason 1, Ashley C Nelson 1, Natalie Lewis 1, Teresa M Nufer 1, Jeff G Edwards 1, Scott C Steffensen 1


Background: Ventral tegmental area (VTA) GABA neurons have been heavily implicated in alcohol reinforcement and reward. In animals that self-administer alcohol, VTA GABA neurons exhibit increased excitability that may contribute to alcohol's rewarding effects. The present study investigated the effects of acute and chronic ethanol exposure on glutamate (GLU) synaptic transmission to VTA GABA neurons.

Methods: Whole-cell recordings of evoked, spontaneous, and miniature excitatory postsynaptic currents (eEPSCs, sEPSCs, and mEPSCs, respectively) were performed on identified GABA neurons in the VTA of GAD67-GFP+ transgenic mice. Three ethanol exposure paradigms were used: acute ethanol superfusion; a single ethanol injection; and chronic vapor exposure.

Results: Acute ethanol superfusion increased the frequency of EPSCs but inhibited mEPSC frequency and amplitude. During withdrawal from a single injection of ethanol, the frequency of sEPSCs was lower than saline controls. There was no difference in α-amino-3-hydroxy-5-methyl-4-isoxazolepropionic acid (AMPA)/N-methyl-d-aspartate (NMDA) ratio between neurons following withdrawal from a single exposure to ethanol. However, following withdrawal from chronic ethanol, sEPSCs and mEPSCs had a greater frequency than air controls. There was no difference in AMPA/NMDA ratio following chronic ethanol.

Conclusions: These results suggest that presynaptic mechanisms involving local circuit GLU neurons, and not GLU receptors, contribute to adaptations in VTA GABA neuron excitability that accrue to ethanol exposure, which may contribute to the rewarding properties of alcohol via their regulation of mesolimbic dopamine transmission.

Granulocyte Colony Stimulating Factor Enhances Reward Learning through Potentiation of Mesolimbic Dopamine System Function

Munir Gunes Kutlu 1, Lillian J Brady 1, Emily G Peck 2, Rebecca S Hofford 3, Jordan T Yorgason 4, Cody A Siciliano 2, Drew D Kiraly 5 6 7, Erin S Calipari 8 9 10


Deficits in motivation and cognition are hallmark symptoms of multiple psychiatric diseases. These symptoms are disruptive to quality of life and often do not improve with available medications. In recent years there has been increased interest in the role of the immune system in neuropsychiatric illness, but to date no immune-related treatment strategies have come to fruition. The cytokine granulocyte-colony stimulating factor (G-CSF) is known to have trophic and neuroprotective properties in the brain, and we recently identified it as a modulator of neuronal and behavioral plasticity. By combining operant tasks that assess discrete aspects of motivated behavior and decision-making in male mice and rats with subsecond dopamine monitoring via fast-scan cyclic voltammetry, we defined the role of G-CSF in these processes as well as the neural mechanism by which it modulates dopamine function to exert these effects. G-CSF enhanced motivation for sucrose as well as cognitive flexibility as measured by reversal learning. These behavioral outcomes were driven by mesolimbic dopamine system plasticity, as systemically administered G-CSF increased evoked dopamine release in the nucleus accumbens independent of clearance mechanisms. Importantly, sustained increases in G-CSF were required for these effects as acute exposure did not enhance behavioral outcomes and decreased dopamine release. These effects seem to be a result of the ability of G-CSF to alter local inflammatory signaling cascades, particularly tumor necrosis factor α. Together, these data show G-CSF as a potent modulator of the mesolimbic dopamine circuit and its ability to appropriately attend to salient stimuli. SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT Emerging evidence has highlighted the importance of the immune system in psychiatric diseases states. However, the effects of peripheral cytokines on motivation and cognitive function are largely unknown. Here, we report that granulocyte-colony stimulating factor (G-CSF), a pleiotropic cytokine with known trophic and neuroprotective properties in the brain, acts directly on dopaminergic circuits to enhance their function. These changes in dopaminergic dynamics enhance reward learning and motivation for natural stimuli. Together, these results suggest that targeting immune factors may provide a new avenue for therapeutic intervention in the multiple psychiatric disorders that are characterized by motivational and cognitive deficits.

Methamphetamine Induces Dopamine Release in the Nucleus Accumbens Through a Sigma Receptor-Mediated Pathway

David M Hedges 1, J Daniel Obray 2, Jordan T Yorgason 2, Eun Young Jang 2, Vajira K Weerasekara 1, Joachim D Uys 3, Frederick P Bellinger 4, Scott C Steffensen 2


Methamphetamine (METH) is a drug with a high addictive potential that is widely abused across the world. Although it is known that METH dysregulates both dopamine transmission and dopamine reuptake, the specific mechanism of action remains obscure. One promising target of METH is the sigma receptor, a chaperone protein located on the membrane of the endoplasmic reticulum. Using fast-scan cyclic voltammetry, we show that METH-enhancement of evoked dopamine release and basal efflux is dependent on sigma receptor activation. METH-induced activation of sigma receptors results in oxidation of a cysteine residue on VMAT2, which decreases transporter function. Unilateral injections of the sigma receptor antagonist BD-1063 prior to METH administration increased dopamine-related ipsilateral circling behavior, indicating the involvement of sigma receptors. These findings suggest that interactions between METH and the sigma receptor lead to oxidative species (most likely superoxide) that in turn oxidize VMAT2. Altogether, these findings show that the sigma receptor has a key role in METH dysregulation of dopamine release and dopamine-related behaviors.

Cholinergic Interneurons Underlie Spontaneous Dopamine Release in Nucleus Accumbens

Jordan T Yorgason 1, Douglas M Zeppenfeld 1, John T Williams 2


The release of dopamine from terminals in the NAc is regulated by a number of factors, including voltage-gated ion channels, D2-autoreceptors, and nAChRs. Cholinergic interneurons (CINs) drive dopamine release through activation of nAChRs on dopamine terminals. Using cyclic voltammetry in mouse brain slices, nAChR-dependent spontaneous dopamine transients and the mechanisms underlying the origin were examined in the NAc. Spontaneous events were infrequent (0.3 per minute), but the rate and amplitude were increased after blocking Kv channels with 4-aminopyridine. Although the firing frequency of CINs was increased by blocking glutamate reuptake with TBOA and the Sk blocker apamin, only 4-aminopyridine increased the frequency of dopamine transients. In contrast, inhibition of CIN firing with the μ/δ selective opioid [Met5]enkephalin (1 μm) decreased spontaneous dopamine transients. Cocaine increased the rate and amplitude of dopamine transients, suggesting that the activity of the dopamine transporter limits the detection of these events. In the presence of cocaine, the rate of spontaneous dopamine transients was further increased after blocking D2-autoreceptors. Blockade of muscarinic receptors had no effect on evoked dopamine release, suggesting that feedback inhibition of acetylcholine release was not involved. Thus, although spontaneous dopamine transients are reliant on nAChRs, the frequency was not strictly governed by the activity of CINs. The increase in frequency of spontaneous dopamine transients induced by cocaine was not due to an increase in cholinergic tone and is likely a product of an increase in detection resulting from decreased dopamine reuptake. SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT The actions of dopamine in the NAc are thought to be responsible for endogenous reward and the reinforcing properties of drugs of abuse, such as psychostimulants. The present work examines the mechanisms underlying nAChR-induced spontaneous dopamine release. This study demonstrates that spontaneous dopamine release is (1) dependent of the activation of nicotinic receptors, (2) independent on the spontaneous activity of cholinergic interneurons, and (3) that cocaine increased the detection of dopamine transients by prolonging the presence and increasing the diffusion of dopamine in the extracellular space. The release of acetylcholine is therefore responsible for spontaneous dopamine transients, and cocaine augments dopamine tone without altering activity of cholinergic interneurons.

Presynaptic gain control by endogenous cotransmission of dopamine and GABA in the olfactory bulb

Christopher E Vaaga 1 2, Jordan T Yorgason 1, John T Williams 1, Gary L Westbrook 3


In the olfactory bulb, lateral inhibition mediated by local juxtaglomerular interneurons has been proposed as a gain control mechanism, important for decorrelating odorant responses. Among juxtaglomerular interneurons, short axon cells are unique as dual-transmitter neurons that release dopamine and GABA. To examine their intraglomerular function, we expressed channelrhodopsin under control of the DAT-cre promoter and activated olfactory afferents within individual glomeruli. Optical stimulation of labeled cells triggered endogenous dopamine release as measured by cyclic voltammetry and GABA release as measured by whole cell GABAA receptor currents. Activation of short axon cells reduced the afferent presynaptic release probability via D2 and GABAB receptor activation, resulting in reduced spiking in both mitral and external tufted cells. Our results suggest that short axon cells influence glomerular activity not only by direct inhibition of external tufted cells but also by inhibition of afferent inputs to external tufted and mitral cells. NEW & NOTEWORTHY Sensory systems, including the olfactory system, encode information across a large dynamic range, making synaptic mechanisms of gain control critical to proper function. Here we demonstrate that a dual-transmitter interneuron in the olfactory bulb controls the gain of intraglomerular afferent input via two distinct mechanisms, presynaptic inhibition as well as inhibition of a principal neuron subtype, and thereby potently controls the synaptic gain of afferent inputs.

Increased presynaptic regulation of dopamine neurotransmission in the nucleus accumbens core following chronic ethanol self-administration in female macaques

Cody A Siciliano 1, Erin S Calipari 1 2, Jordan T Yorgason 1, David M Lovinger 3, Yolanda Mateo 3, Vanessa A Jimenez 4, Christa M Helms 4, Kathleen A Grant 4, Sara R Jones 5


Rationale: Hypofunction of striatal dopamine neurotransmission, or hypodopaminergia, is a consequence of excessive ethanol use and is hypothesized to be a critical component of alcoholism, driving alcohol intake in an attempt to restore dopamine levels; however, the neurochemical mechanisms involved in these dopaminergic deficiencies are not fully understood.

Objective: Here we examined the specific dopaminergic adaptations that produce hypodopaminergia and contribute to alcohol use disorders using direct, sub-second measurements of dopamine signaling in nonhuman primates following chronic ethanol self-administration.

Methods: Female rhesus macaques completed 1 year of daily (22 h/day) ethanol self-administration. Subsequently, fast-scan cyclic voltammetry was used in nucleus accumbens core brain slices to determine alterations in dopamine terminal function, including release and uptake kinetics, and sensitivity to quinpirole (D2/D3 dopamine receptor agonist) and U50,488 (kappa opioid receptor agonist) induced inhibition of dopamine release.

Results: Ethanol drinking greatly increased uptake rates, which were positively correlated with lifetime ethanol intake. Furthermore, the sensitivity of dopamine D2/D3 autoreceptors and kappa opioid receptors, which both act as negative regulators of presynaptic dopamine release, was moderately and robustly enhanced in ethanol drinkers.

Conclusions: Greater uptake rates and sensitivity to D2-type autoreceptor and kappa opioid receptor agonists could converge to drive a hypodopaminergic state, characterized by reduced basal dopamine and an inability to mount appropriate dopaminergic responses to salient stimuli. Together, we outline the specific alterations to dopamine signaling that may drive ethanol-induced hypofunction of the dopamine system and suggest that the dopamine and dynorphin/kappa opioid receptor systems may be efficacious pharmacotherapeutic targets in the treatment of alcohol use disorders.

Essential Role of Mesolimbic Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor in Chronic Social Stress-Induced Depressive Behaviors

Ja Wook Koo 1, Benoit Labonté 2, Olivia Engmann 2, Erin S Calipari 3, Barbara Juarez 4, Zachary Lorsch 2, Jessica J Walsh 4, Allyson K Friedman 4, Jordan T Yorgason 5, Ming-Hu Han 6, Eric J Nestler 6


Background: Previous work has shown that chronic social defeat stress (CSDS) induces increased phasic firing of ventral tegmental area (VTA) dopamine (DA) neurons that project to the nucleus accumbens (NAc) selectively in mice that are susceptible to the deleterious effects of the stress. In addition, acute optogenetic phasic stimulation of these neurons promotes susceptibility in animals exposed to acute defeat stress. These findings are paradoxical, as increased DA signaling in NAc normally promotes motivation and reward, and the influence of chronic phasic VTA firing in the face of chronic stress is unknown.

Methods: We used CSDS with repeated optogenetic activation and pharmacologic manipulations of the mesolimbic VTA-NAc pathway to examine the role of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) and DA signaling in depressive-like behaviors. We measured BDNF protein expression and DA release in this model.

Results: Pharmacologic blockade of BDNF-tyrosine receptor kinase B (TrkB) signaling, but not DA signaling, in NAc prevented CSDS-induced behavioral abnormalities. Chronic optogenetic phasic stimulation of the VTA-NAc circuit during CSDS exacerbated the defeat-induced behavioral symptoms, and these aggravated symptoms were also normalized by BDNF-TrkB blockade in NAc. The aggravated behavioral deficits induced by phasic stimulation of the VTA-NAc pathway were blocked as well by local knockdown of BDNF in VTA.

Conclusions: These findings show that BDNF-TrkB signaling, rather than DA signaling, in the VTA-NAc circuit is crucial for facilitating depressive-like outcomes after CSDS and they establish BDNF-TrkB signaling as a pathologic mechanism during periods of chronic stress.

In vivo imaging identifies temporal signature of D1 and D2 medium spiny neurons in cocaine reward

Erin S Calipari 1, Rosemary C Bagot 1, Immanuel Purushothaman 1, Thomas J Davidson 2, Jordan T Yorgason 3, Catherine J Peña 1, Deena M Walker 1, Stephen T Pirpinias 1, Kevin G Guise 1, Charu Ramakrishnan 2, Karl Deisseroth 4, Eric J Nestler 5


The reinforcing and rewarding properties of cocaine are attributed to its ability to increase dopaminergic transmission in nucleus accumbens (NAc). This action reinforces drug taking and seeking and leads to potent and long-lasting associations between the rewarding effects of the drug and the cues associated with its availability. The inability to extinguish these associations is a key factor contributing to relapse. Dopamine produces these effects by controlling the activity of two subpopulations of NAc medium spiny neurons (MSNs) that are defined by their predominant expression of either dopamine D1 or D2 receptors. Previous work has demonstrated that optogenetically stimulating D1 MSNs promotes reward, whereas stimulating D2 MSNs produces aversion. However, we still lack a clear understanding of how the endogenous activity of these cell types is affected by cocaine and encodes information that drives drug-associated behaviors. Using fiber photometry calcium imaging we define D1 MSNs as the specific population of cells in NAc that encodes information about drug associations and elucidate the temporal profile with which D1 activity is increased to drive drug seeking in response to contextual cues. Chronic cocaine exposure dysregulates these D1 signals to both prevent extinction and facilitate reinstatement of drug seeking to drive relapse. Directly manipulating these D1 signals using designer receptors exclusively activated by designer drugs prevents contextual associations. Together, these data elucidate the responses of D1- and D2-type MSNs in NAc to acute cocaine and during the formation of context-reward associations and define how prior cocaine exposure selectively dysregulates D1 signaling to drive relapse.

Chronic ethanol self-administration in macaques shifts dopamine feedback inhibition to predominantly D2 receptors in nucleus accumbens core

Cody A Siciliano 1, Erin S Calipari 1, Jordan T Yorgason 1, Yolanda Mateo 2, Christa M Helms 3, David M Lovinger 2, Kathleen A Grant 3, Sara R Jones 4


Background: Given the high level of homology between nonhuman primates and humans in regard to anatomy, physiology and ethanol drinking patterns, nonhuman primates represent an unparalleled preclinical model for examining the neurobiological basis of ethanol abuse.

Methods: Here we examined the neurochemical consequences of chronic daily ethanol use using fast-scan cyclic voltammetry in brain slices containing the nucleus accumbens core or dorsolateral caudate taken from male cynomolgus macaques following ethanol drinking.

Results: We found that in both regions the ability of ethanol to decrease dopamine release was unchanged, indicating that ethanol self-administration does not produce tolerance or sensitization to ethanol effects on dopamine release at the dopamine terminal at this time point. We also found that in the nucleus accumbens core, autoregulation of dopamine release was shifted from equal D2 and D3 receptor involvement in control animals to primarily D2 receptor-mediated in drinkers. Specifically, the effect quinpirole, a D2/D3 receptor agonist, on dopamine release was equal across groups; however, dopamine signals were reversed to a greater extent by the selective D3 receptor antagonist SB-277,011A in control animals, indicating a greater contribution of D2 receptors in quinpirole-induced inhibition following ethanol self-administration. In the dorsolateral caudate, the effects of quinpirole and reversal with SB-277,011A was not different between ethanol and control slices.

Conclusions: This work provides novel insight into the dopaminergic adaptations resulting from chronic ethanol use in nonhuman primates and indicates that alterations in D2/D3 dopamine autoreceptor signaling may be an important neurochemical adaptation to ethanol consumption during early use.

Social isolation rearing increases dopamine uptake and psychostimulant potency in the striatum

Jordan T Yorgason 1, Erin S Calipari 2, Mark J Ferris 3, Anushree N Karkhanis 4, Steven C Fordahl 5, Jeffrey L Weiner 6, Sara R Jones 7


Social isolation rearing (SI) is a model of early life stress that results in neurobiological alterations leading to increased anxiety-like behaviors. These animals also exhibit an increased propensity to administer psychostimulants, such as cocaine; however, the mechanisms governing this increased addiction vulnerability remain to be elucidated. Long-term stressors have been shown to produce important alterations in nucleus accumbens core (NAc) function. The NAc regulates motivated and goal-directed behaviors, and individual differences in NAc function have been shown to be predictive of addiction vulnerability. Rats were reared in group (GH; 4/cage) or SI (1/cage) conditions from weaning (PD 28) into early adulthood (PD 77) and dopamine release was assessed using voltammetry in brain slices containing the NAc and dorsomedial striatum. SI rats exhibited enhanced dopamine release and uptake in both regions compared to GH rats. In regard to psychostimulant effects directly at the dopamine transporter (DAT), methylphenidate and amphetamine, but not cocaine, inhibited uptake more in SI than GH rats. The increased potencies were positively correlated with uptake rates, suggesting that increased potencies of amphetamine-like compounds are due to changes in DAT function. Cocaine's effects on uptake were similar between rearing conditions, however, cocaine enhanced evoked dopamine release greater in SI than GH rats, suggesting that the enhanced cocaine reinforcement in SI animals involves a DAT independent mechanism. Together, the results provide the first evidence that greater psychostimulant effects in SI compared to GH rats are due to effects on dopamine terminals related to uptake dependent and independent mechanisms.

Hypocretin/Orexin regulation of dopamine signaling and cocaine self-administration is mediated predominantly by hypocretin receptor 1

Courtney D Prince 1, Andrew R Rau, Jordan T Yorgason, Rodrigo A España


Extensive evidence suggests that the hypocretins/orexins influence cocaine reinforcement and dopamine signaling via actions at hypocretin receptor 1. By comparison, the involvement of hypocretin receptor 2 in reward and reinforcement processes has received relatively little attention. Thus, although there is some evidence that hypocretin receptor 2 regulates intake of some drugs of abuse, it is currently unclear to what extent hypocretin receptor 2 participates in the regulation of dopamine signaling or cocaine self-administration, particularly under high effort conditions. To address this, we examined the effects of hypocretin receptor 1, and/or hypocretin receptor 2 blockade on dopamine signaling and cocaine reinforcement. We used in vivo fast scan cyclic voltammetry to test the effects of hypocretin antagonists on dopamine signaling in the nucleus accumbens core and a progressive ratio schedule to examine the effects of these antagonists on cocaine self-administration. Results demonstrate that blockade of either hypocretin receptor 1 or both hypocretin receptor 1 and 2 significantly reduces the effects of cocaine on dopamine signaling and decreases the motivation to take cocaine. In contrast, blockade of hypocretin receptor 2 alone had no significant effects on dopamine signaling or self-administration. These findings suggest a differential involvement of the two hypocretin receptors, with hypocretin receptor 1 appearing to be more involved than hypocretin receptor 2 in the regulation of dopamine signaling and cocaine self-administration. When considered with the existing literature, these data support the hypothesis that hypocretins exert a permissive influence on dopamine signaling and motivated behavior via preferential actions on hypocretin receptor 1.

Greater ethanol inhibition of presynaptic dopamine release in C57BL/6J than DBA/2J mice: Role of nicotinic acetylcholine receptors

J T Yorgason 1, J H Rose 1, J M McIntosh 2, M J Ferris 1, S R Jones 3


The mesolimbic dopamine system, originating in the ventral tegmental area (VTA) and projecting to the nucleus accumbens (NAc), has been heavily implicated in the reinforcing effects of ethanol. Recent slice voltammetry studies have shown that ethanol inhibits dopamine release selectively during high-frequency activity that elicits phasic dopamine release shown to be important for learning and reinforcement. Presently, we examined ethanol inhibition of electrically evoked NAc dopamine in two mouse strains with divergent dopamine responses to ethanol, C57BL/6 (C57) and DBA/2J (DBA) mice. Previous electrophysiology and microdialysis studies have demonstrated greater ethanol-induced VTA dopaminergic firing and NAc dopamine elevations in DBA compared to C57 mice. Additionally, DBA mice have greater ethanol responses in dopamine-related behaviors, including hyperlocomotion and conditioned place preference. Currently, we demonstrate greater sensitivity of ethanol inhibition of NAc dopamine signaling in C57 compared to DBA mice. The reduced sensitivity to ethanol inhibition in DBA mice may contribute to the overall greater ethanol-induced dopamine signaling and related behaviors observed in this strain. NAc cholinergic activity is known to potently modulate terminal dopamine release. Additionally, ethanol is known to interact with multiple aspects of nicotinic acetylcholine receptor activity. Therefore, we examined ethanol-mediated inhibition of dopamine release at two ethanol concentrations (80 and 160 mM) during bath application of the non-selective nicotinic receptor antagonist mecamylamine, as well as compounds selective for the β2-(dihydro-β-erythroidine hydrobromide; DhβE) and α6-(α-conotoxin MII [H9A; L15A]) subunit-containing receptors. Mecamylamine and DhβE decreased dopamine release and reduced ethanol's inhibitory effects on dopamine in both DBA and C57 mice. Further, α-conotoxin also reduced the dopamine release and the dopamine-inhibiting effects of ethanol at the 80 mM, but not 160 mM, concentration. These data suggest that ethanol is acting in part through nicotinic acetylcholine receptors, or downstream effectors, to reduce dopamine release during high-frequency activity.

Acute ethanol inhibits dopamine release in the nucleus accumbens via α6 nicotinic acetylcholine receptors

Nathan D Schilaty 1, David M Hedges, Eun Young Jang, Ryan J Folsom, Jordan T Yorgason, J Michael McIntosh, Scott C Steffensen


Electrophysiology and microdialysis studies have provided compelling evidence that moderate to high ethanol concentrations enhance dopamine (DA) neurotransmission in the nucleus accumbens (NAc) through the mesolimbic DA system. However, with fast-scan cyclic voltammetry, short-term exposure to moderate to high doses of ethanol decreases evoked DA release at terminals in the NAc. The aim of this study was to evaluate the involvement of nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChRs) in modulating the effects of ethanol on DA release in the NAc of C57BL/6 mice ex vivo and in vivo. Local stimulation evoked robust, frequency-dependent DA release in the NAc slice preparation, with maximal release at 40 Hz in the shell and 20 Hz in the core. Nicotine decreased DA release in a concentration-dependent (0.01-10 μM) manner in the shell and core, with an IC50 of 0.1 μM ex vivo and 0.5 mg/kg in vivo. Nicotine and ethanol inhibition of DA release was blocked by the α6*-nAChR antagonist α-conotoxins CtxMII and α-CtxMII [H9A; L15A] ex vivo (100 nM) in the core but not the shell. Furthermore, the nonspecific nAChR antagonist mecamylamine (2 mg/kg) blocked the effects of ethanol in the core in vivo. These findings suggest that DA release is inhibited by ethanol via nAChRs in the NAc and that DA modulation by nAChRs differs in the core versus the shell, with α6*-nAChRs affecting DA release in the core but not in the shell.

Frequency-dependent effects of ethanol on dopamine release in the nucleus accumbens

Jordan T Yorgason 1, Mark J Ferris, Scott C Steffensen, Sara R Jones


Background: Ethanol (EtOH) is known to have excitatory effects on dopamine (DA) release, with moderate-to-high doses (0.5 to 2.5 g/kg) of acute EtOH enhancing DA neuron firing rates in the ventral tegmental area (VTA) and DA levels in the nucleus accumbens (NAc). EtOH has also been shown to reduce DA activity, with moderate doses (1 to 2 g/kg) attenuating electrically evoked release, and higher doses (5 g/kg) decreasing NAc DA levels, demonstrating a biphasic effect of EtOH on DA release. The purpose of the current study was to evaluate EtOH's inhibitory effects on NAc DA terminal release under low- and high-frequency stimulation conditions.

Methods: Using fast-scan cyclic voltammetry in NAc slices from C57BL/6J mice, we examined EtOH's (40 to 160 mM) effects on DA release under several different stimulation parameters, varying frequency (5 to 125 Hz), number of pulses (1 to 10), and stimulation intensity (50 to 350 μA). Additionally, calcium concentrations were manipulated under high-frequency stimulation conditions (20 Hz, 10 pulses, 350 μA) to determine whether EtOH's effects were dependent upon calcium concentration, and by extension, the amount of DA release.

Results: Acute EtOH (40 to 160 mM) inhibited DA release to a greater extent under high-frequency, multiple-pulse stimulation conditions, with increased sensitivity at 5 and 10 pulses and frequencies of 20 Hz or higher. High-frequency, multiple-pulse stimulations also resulted in greater DA release compared with single-pulse release, which was controlled by reducing stimulation intensity. Under reduced DA conditions, high-frequency stimulations still showed increased EtOH sensitivity. Reducing calcium levels also decreased DA release at high-frequency stimulations, but did not affect EtOH sensitivity.

Conclusions: EtOH appears to inhibit DA release at NAc terminals under high-frequency stimulation conditions that are similar to release events observed during phasic burst firing in DAergic neurons, suggesting that EtOH may provide inhibition of DA terminals selectively during phasic signaling, while leaving tonic DA terminal activity unaffected.

Examining the complex regulation and drug-induced plasticity of dopamine release and uptake using voltammetry in brain slices

Mark J Ferris 1, Erin S Calipari, Jordan T Yorgason, Sara R Jones


Fast scan cyclic voltammetry in brain slices (slice voltammetry) has been used over the last several decades to increase substantially our understanding of the complex local regulation of dopamine release and uptake in the striatum. This technique is routinely used for the study of changes that occur in the dopamine system associated with various disease states and pharmacological treatments, and to study mechanisms of local circuitry regulation of dopamine terminal function. In the context of this Review, we compare the relative advantages of voltammetry using striatal slice preparations versus in vivo preparations, and highlight recent advances in our understanding of dopamine release and uptake in the striatum specifically from studies that use slice voltammetry in drug-naïve animals and animals with a history of psychostimulant self-administration.

Enduring increases in anxiety-like behavior and rapid nucleus accumbens dopamine signaling in socially isolated rats

Jordan T Yorgason 1, Rodrigo A España, Joanne K Konstantopoulos, Jeffrey L Weiner, Sara R Jones


Social isolation (SI) rearing, a model of early life stress, results in profound behavioral alterations, including increased anxiety-like behavior, impaired sensorimotor gating and increased self-administration of addictive substances. These changes are accompanied by alterations in mesolimbic dopamine function, such as increased dopamine and metabolite tissue content, increased dopamine responses to cues and psychostimulants, and increased dopamine neuron burst firing. Using voltammetric techniques, we examined the effects of SI rearing on dopamine transporter activity, vesicular release and dopamine D2-type autoreceptor activity in the nucleus accumbens core. Long-Evans rats were housed in group (GH; 4/cage) or SI (1/cage) conditions from weaning into early adulthood [postnatal day (PD) 28-77]. After this initial housing period, rats were assessed on the elevated plus-maze for an anxiety-like phenotype, and then slice voltammetry experiments were performed. To study the enduring effects of SI rearing on anxiety-like behavior and dopamine terminal function, another cohort of similarly reared rats was isolated for an additional 4 months (until PD 174) and then tested. Our findings demonstrate that SI rearing results in lasting increases in anxiety-like behavior, dopamine release and dopamine transporter activity, but not D2 activity. Interestingly, GH-reared rats that were isolated as adults did not develop the anxiety-like behavior or dopamine changes seen in SI-reared rats. Together, our data suggest that early life stress results in an anxiety-like phenotype, with lasting increases in dopamine terminal function.

Low and high affinity dopamine transporter inhibitors block dopamine uptake within 5 sec of intravenous injection

J T Yorgason 1, S R Jones, R A España


Extensive evidence suggests that the reinforcing effects of cocaine involve inhibition of dopamine transporters (DAT) and subsequent increases in dopamine (DA) levels in the striatum. We have previously reported that cocaine inhibits the DAT within 4-5 s of i.v. injection, matching the temporal profile of the behavioral and subjective effects of cocaine. Intravenous injection of GBR-12909, a high affinity, long-acting DAT inhibitor, also inhibits DA uptake within 5 s. Given that high affinity, long-acting drugs are considered to have relatively low abuse potential, we found it intriguing that GBR-12909 had an onset profile similar to that of cocaine. To further explore the onset kinetics of both low and high affinity DAT inhibitors, we examined the effects of i.v. cocaine (1.5 mg/kg), methylphenidate (1.5 mg/kg), nomifensine (1.5 mg/kg), GBR-12909 (1.5 mg/kg), PTT (0.5 mg/kg), and WF23 (0.5 mg/kg) on electrically-evoked DA release and uptake in the nucleus accumbens core. Results indicate that all of the DAT inhibitors significantly inhibited DA uptake within 5 s of injection. However, the timing of peak uptake inhibition varied greatly between the low and high affinity uptake inhibitors. Uptake inhibition following cocaine, methylphenidate, and nomifensine peaked 30 s following injection. In contrast, peak effects for GBR-12909, PTT, and WF23 occurred between 20 and 60 min following injection. These observations suggest that the initial onset for i.v. DAT inhibitors is extremely rapid and does not appear to be dictated by a drug's affinity.

Demon voltammetry and analysis software: analysis of cocaine-induced alterations in dopamine signaling using multiple kinetic measures

Jordan T Yorgason 1, Rodrigo A España, Sara R Jones


The fast sampling rates of fast scan cyclic voltammetry make it a favorable method for measuring changes in brain monoamine release and uptake kinetics in slice, anesthetized, and freely moving preparations. The most common analysis technique for evaluating changes in dopamine signaling uses well-established Michaelis-Menten kinetic methods that can accurately model dopamine release and uptake parameters across multiple experimental conditions. Nevertheless, over the years, many researchers have turned to other measures to estimate changes in dopamine release and uptake, yet to our knowledge no systematic comparison amongst these measures has been conducted. To address this lack of uniformity in kinetic analyses, we have created the Demon Voltammetry and Analysis software suite, which is freely available to academic and non-profit institutions. Here we present an explanation of the Demon Voltammetry acquisition and analysis features, and demonstrate its utility for acquiring voltammetric data under in vitro, in vivo anesthetized, and freely moving conditions. Additionally, the software was used to compare the sensitivity of multiple kinetic measures of release and uptake to cocaine-induced changes in electrically evoked dopamine efflux in nucleus accumbens core slices. Specifically, we examined and compared tau, full width at half height, half-life, T₂₀, T₈₀, slope, peak height, calibrated peak dopamine concentration, and area under the curve to the well-characterized Michaelis-Menten parameters, dopamine per pulse, maximal uptake rate, and apparent affinity. Based on observed results we recommend tau for measuring dopamine uptake and calibrated peak dopamine concentration for measuring dopamine release.

Lateral paracapsular GABAergic synapses in the basolateral amygdala contribute to the anxiolytic effects of beta 3 adrenoceptor activation

Yuval Silberman 1, Olusegun J Ariwodola, Ann M Chappell, Jordan T Yorgason, Jeff L Weiner


Norepinephrine (NE) is known to play an integral role in the neurobiological response to stress. Exposure to stressful stimuli increases NE levels in brain regions that regulate stress and anxiety, like the basolateral amygdala (BLA). NE is thought to increase excitability in these areas through alpha- and beta-adrenoceptors (ARs), leading to increased anxiety. Surprisingly, recent studies have shown that systemic beta 3-AR agonist administration decreases anxiety-like behaviors, suggesting that beta 3-ARs may inhibit excitability in anxiety-related brain regions. Therefore, in this study we integrated electrophysiological and behavioral approaches to test the hypothesis that the anxiolytic effects of beta 3-AR agonists may be mediated by an increase in BLA GABAergic inhibition. We examined the effect of a selective beta 3-AR agonist, BRL37344 (BRL), on GABAergic synapses arising from local circuit interneurons and inhibitory synapses originating from a recently described population of cells called lateral paracapsular (LPCS) interneurons. Surprisingly, BRL selectively enhanced LPCS-evoked inhibitory postsynaptic currents (eIPSCs) with no effect on local GABAergic inhibition. BRL also had no effect on glutamatergic synaptic excitation within the BLA. BRL potentiation of LPCS eIPSCs was blocked by the selective beta 3-AR antagonist, SR59230A, or by intracellular dialysis of Rp-CAMPS (cAMP-dependent protein kinase inhibitor), and this enhancement was not associated with any changes in spontaneous IPSCs or LPCS paired-pulse ratio. BRL also increased the amplitude of unitary LPCS IPSCs (uIPSCs) with no effect on uIPSC failure rate. Finally, bilateral BLA microinjection of BRL reduced anxiety-like behaviors in an open-field assay and the elevated plus-maze. Collectively, these data suggest that beta 3-AR activation selectively enhances LPCS, but not local, BLA GABAergic synapses, and that increases in LPCS-mediated inhibition may contribute to the anxiolytic profile of beta 3-AR agonists.

Acute and chronic ethanol modulate dopamine D2-subtype receptor responses in ventral tegmental area GABA neurons

Kimberly H Ludlow 1, Katie D Bradley, David W Allison, Seth R Taylor, Jordan T Yorgason, David M Hansen, Christine H Walton, Sterling N Sudweeks, Scott C Steffensen


Background: Ventral tegmental area (VTA) gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) neurons appear to be critical substrates underlying the acute and chronic effects of ethanol on dopamine (DA) neurotransmission in the mesocorticolimbic system implicated in drug reward. VTA GABA neuron firing rate is reduced by acute ethanol and enhanced by DA via D2 receptor activation. The objective of this study was to evaluate the role of D2 receptors in acute ethanol inhibition of VTA GABA neuron activity, as well as the adaptation of D2 receptors by chronic ethanol consumption.

Methods: Using electrophysiological methods, we evaluated the effects of intraperitoneal ethanol on DA activation of VTA GABA neurons, the effects of DA antagonists on ethanol inhibition of their firing rate, as well as adaptations in firing rate following chronic ethanol consumption. Using single cell quantitative RT-polymerase chain reaction (PCR), we evaluated the expression of VTA GABA neuron D2 receptors in rats consuming ethanol versus pair-fed controls.

Results: In acute ethanol studies, microelectrophoretic activation of VTA GABA neurons by DA was inhibited by acute intraperitoneal ethanol, and intravenous administration of the D2 antagonist eticlopride blocked ethanol suppression of VTA GABA neuron firing rate. In chronic ethanol studies, while there were no signs of withdrawal at 24 hours, or significant adaptation in firing rate or response to acute ethanol, there was a significant down-regulation in the expression of D2 receptors in ethanol-consuming rats versus pair-fed controls.

Conclusions: Inhibition of DA activation of VTA GABA neuron firing rate by ethanol, as well as eticlopride block of ethanol inhibition of VTA GABA neuron firing rate, suggests an interaction between ethanol and DA neurotransmission via D2 receptors, perhaps via enhanced DA release in the VTA subsequent to ethanol inhibition of GABA neurons. Down-regulation of VTA GABA neuron D2 receptors by chronic ethanol might result from persistent DA release onto GABA neurons.

    Contingent and non-contingent effects of low-dose ethanol on GABA neuron activity in the ventral tegmental area

    Scott C Steffensen 1, Christine H Walton, David M Hansen, Jordan T Yorgason, Roger A Gallegos, Jose R Criado


    Ventral tegmental area (VTA) GABA neurons appear to be critical regulators of mesocorticolimbic dopamine (DA) neurotransmission, which has been implicated in alcohol reward. The aim of this study was to evaluate the effects of low-dose "non-contingent" intravenous (IV) ethanol (0.01-0.1 g/kg) on VTA GABA neuron firing rate and synaptic responses, as well as VTA GABA neuron firing rate during low-dose "contingent" IV ethanol self-administration. Intravenous administration of 0.01-0.03 g/kg ethanol significantly increased VTA GABA neuron firing rate and afferent-evoked synaptic responses. In the runway self-administration paradigm, presentation of an olfactory cue (S+; almond extract) or no-cue (S-; no odor) in the Start box was paired with IV administration of low-dose ethanol (0.01 g/kg) or saline in the Target box. Runway excursion times decreased significantly in association during S+, and increased significantly during S- conditions. The firing rate of VTA GABA neurons markedly increased when rats received 0.01 g/kg IV ethanol in the Target box. VTA GABA neuron firing increased in the Start box of the runway in association with S+, but not S-. These findings demonstrate that VTA GABA neurons are activated by low-dose IV ethanol and that their firing rate increases in anticipation of ethanol reward.