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Psychopharmacology (Berl). 2009 Jan;201(4):471-81. doi: 10.1007/s00213-008-1309-2. Epub 2008 Sep 6.

Electrophysiological properties of dopamine neurons in the ventral tegmental area of Sardinian alcohol-preferring rats.

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B.B. Brodie Department of Neuroscience, University of Cagliari, Cittadella Universitaria di Monserrato, 09042, Monserrato, Italy.



Sardinian alcohol-preferring (sP) or -nonpreferring (sNP) rats are one of the few pairs of lines of rats selectively bred for their voluntary alcohol preference or aversion, respectively. Ventral tegmental area (VTA) dopamine (DA) neurons have long been implicated in many drug-related behaviors, including alcohol self-administration. However, the electrophysiological properties of these cells in sP and sNP rats remain unknown.


This study was designed to examine the properties of posterior VTA DA neurons and to unveil functional differences between sP and sNP rats.


The electrophysiological properties of DA cells were examined performing either single-cell extracellular recordings in anesthetized rats or whole-cell patch-clamp recordings in slices.


Extracellular single-unit recordings revealed an increased spontaneous activity in sP rats. However, a corresponding difference was not found in vitro. Moreover, DA cells of sP and sNP rats showed similar intrinsic properties, suggesting changes at synaptic level. Therefore, inhibitory- and excitatory-mediated currents were studied. A decreased probability of GABA release was found in sP rats. Additionally, sP rats showed a reduced depolarization-induced suppression of inhibition, which is an endocannabinoid-mediated form of short-term plasticity. Additionally, the effect of cannabinoid-type 1 (CB1) receptor agonist WIN55,212-2 on GABAA IPSCs was smaller in sP rats, suggesting either a reduced number or functionality of CB1 receptors in the VTA.


Our findings suggest that both decreased GABA release and endocannabinoid transmission in the VTA play a role in the increased impulse activity of DA cells and, ultimately, in alcohol preference displayed by sP rats.

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