November 28, 2020

Distinct dopamine circuits transmit the reinforcing and anxiogenic effects of nicotine

Nicotine, the addictive component of tobacco, stimulates dopamine (DA) neurons of the ventral tegmental area (VTA) to establish and maintain reinforcement. Nicotine also induces negative emotional states such as anxiety, yet through an unknown circuitry. Here we show that nicotine at reinforcing doses drives opposite functional responses on two distinct populations of VTA DA neurons with anatomically segregated projections: it activates those that project to the nucleus accumbens (NAc) while it inhibits those that project to the amygdala nuclei (Amg). We further show that nicotine, by acting on {beta}2 subunit-containing nicotinic acetylcholine receptors of the VTA, mediates both reinforcement and anxiety. Finally, using optogenetic experiments we dissociate the roles of the VTA-NAc excitation and VTA-Amg inhibition in reinforcement and anxiety-like behavior, respectively. We thus propose that the positive and negative behavioral outcomes of nicotine consumption involve distinct subpopulations of VTA DA neurons with opposite responses to nicotine.

 bioRxiv Subject Collection: Neuroscience

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