Dopaminergic neurons of the substantia nigra (SNC) and ventral tegmental area (VTA) exhibit spontaneous firing activity. The dopaminergic neurons in these regions have been shown to exhibit differential sensitivity to neuronal loss and psychostimulants targeting dopamine transporter. However, it remains unclear whether these regional differences scale beyond individual neuronal activity to regional neuronal networks. Here we utilized live-cell calcium imaging to show that network connectivity greatly differs between SNC and VTA regions with higher incidence of hub-like neurons in the VTA. Specifically, the frequency of hub-like neurons was significantly lower in SNC dopamine neurons than in the adjacent VTA, consistent with the interpretation of a lower network resilience to SNC neuronal loss. We tested this hypothesis when activity of an individual dopaminergic neuron is suppressed, through whole-cell patch clamp electrophysiology, in either SNC, or VTA networks. Neuronal loss in the SNC decreased network clustering, whereas the larger number of hub-neurons in the VTA overcompensated by increasing network clustering in the VTA. We further show that network properties are regulatable via a dopamine transporter but not a D2 receptor dependent mechanism. Our results demonstrate novel regulatory mechanisms of functional network topology in dopaminergic brain regions.
bioRxiv Subject Collection: Neuroscience