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Brain Res. 2013 May 20;1511:93-101. doi: 10.1016/j.brainres.2012.10.011. Epub 2012 Oct 18.

DREADDing the lateral habenula: a review of methodological approaches for studying lateral habenula function.

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Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, University of Washington, Harborview Medical Center, Seattle, WA 98104, USA.


The lateral habenula (LHb) is part of the habenular complex in the dorsal diencephalon. The LHb is an important regulator of several neurotransmitter systems in the midbrain; disturbances in this regulation may contribute to mood disorders, abnormalities in cognition, drive, and addiction. Owing to the critical role this nucleus plays in modulating activity of midbrain nuclei, there has been a rapid increase in studies targeting the LHb in the recent years. In this review, we describe studies using traditional approaches to elucidate the function of this brain region, such as lesion, electrical and chemical stimulation, electrophysiology and in vivo microdialysis. We have selected a variety of illustrative studies to discuss each of these methods. Next, we describe studies using methods that are based upon recent advances in molecular biology techniques including recent results from our laboratory using the Designer Receptor Exclusively Activated by Designer Drug (DREADD) technology. Using a Gi/o-coupled DREADD, we found that inhibition of the LHb reduces depression-like behavior in the forced swim test in a manner that suggests enhanced serotonergic activity. The emerging picture reveals that the LHb is likely to be a critical node in the network of subcortical nuclei that regulate aversive learning, motivation, stress responses, etc. We describe how recently developed methods have advanced the study of the LHb and are leading research of this brain region in promising new directions. This article is part of a Special Issue entitled Optogenetics (7th BRES).

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