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J Pharmacol Exp Ther. 2008 Oct;327(1):196-205. doi: 10.1124/jpet.108.139766. Epub 2008 Jun 26.

Purinergic type 2 receptors at GABAergic synapses on ventral tegmental area dopamine neurons are targets for ethanol action.

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  • 1Department of Anesthesiology, Pharmacology and Physiology, New Jersey Medical School (UMDNJ), 185 South Orange Avenue, Newark, NJ 07103-2714, USA.


The current study investigated whether ethanol alters ATP activation of purinergic type 2 receptors (P2Rs) in the ventral tegmental area (VTA). The VTA is a key region of the brain that has been implicated in the development of alcohol addiction. We investigated the effects of ATP and ethanol on spontaneous inhibitory postsynaptic currents (sIPSCs) and the spontaneous firings in the VTA dopaminergic neurons, obtained using an enzyme-free procedure. These neurons preserved some functional GABA-releasing terminals after isolation. We found that ATP (1-200 microM) either increased or decreased the frequency of sIPSCs and the activity of VTA dopaminergic neurons. The effects of ATP on sIPSC frequency inversely correlated with its effects on dopaminergic neuron activity. The ATP-induced changes in sIPSC frequency were blocked by tetrodotoxin (a sodium channel blocker) and by suramin (a nonselective P2R antagonist). Furthermore, alpha,beta-methylene ATP, a selective P2X(1) and P2X(3) receptor agonist, increased sIPSC frequency, whereas adenosine 5'-[beta-thio]diphosphate, a preferential agonist of P2Y receptors, decreased sIPSC frequency. In experiments testing the effects of ethanol (10 and 40 mM) on sIPSCs, we found that ethanol significantly attenuated ATP-induced increase and enhanced ATP-induced decrease in sIPSC frequency. Taken together, the results demonstrate that multiple subtypes of P2Rs exist on GABA-releasing terminals that make synapses on VTA dopaminergic neurons. It seems that ATP increases sIPSC frequency involving P2X(1) and/or P2X(3) receptors, and ATP decreases sIPSC frequency involving P2YRs. These findings are also consistent with the notion that P2Rs at GABA-releasing terminals on VTA dopaminergic neurons are important targets for ethanol action.

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