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J Neurochem. 2012 Apr;121(2):252-62. doi: 10.1111/j.1471-4159.2012.07677.x. Epub 2012 Mar 13.

Sources contributing to the average extracellular concentration of dopamine in the nucleus accumbens.

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Department of Chemistry, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, North Carolina, USA.


Mesolimbic dopamine neurons fire in both tonic and phasic modes resulting in detectable extracellular levels of dopamine in the nucleus accumbens (NAc). In the past, different techniques have targeted dopamine levels in the NAc to establish a basal concentration. In this study, we used in vivo fast scan cyclic voltammetry (FSCV) in the NAc of awake, freely moving rats. The experiments were primarily designed to capture changes in dopamine caused by phasic firing - that is, the measurement of dopamine 'transients'. These FSCV measurements revealed for the first time that spontaneous dopamine transients constitute a major component of extracellular dopamine levels in the NAc. A series of experiments were designed to probe regulation of extracellular dopamine. Lidocaine was infused into the ventral tegmental area, the site of dopamine cell bodies, to arrest neuronal firing. While there was virtually no instantaneous change in dopamine concentration, longer sampling revealed a decrease in dopamine transients and a time-averaged decrease in the extracellular level. Dopamine transporter inhibition using intravenous GBR12909 injections increased extracellular dopamine levels changing both frequency and size of dopamine transients in the NAc. To further unmask the mechanics governing extracellular dopamine levels we used intravenous injection of the vesicular monoamine transporter (VMAT2) inhibitor, tetrabenazine, to deplete dopamine storage and increase cytoplasmic dopamine in the nerve terminals. Tetrabenazine almost abolished phasic dopamine release but increased extracellular dopamine to ∼500 nM, presumably by inducing reverse transport by dopamine transporter (DAT). Taken together, data presented here show that average extracellular dopamine in the NAc is low (20-30 nM) and largely arises from phasic dopamine transients.

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