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Brain Res. 2013 Apr 24;1507:45-60. doi: 10.1016/j.brainres.2013.01.029. Epub 2013 Jan 21.

A glutamatergic projection from the lateral hypothalamus targets VTA-projecting neurons in the lateral habenula of the rat.

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Institut für Integrative Neuroanatomie, Charité-Universitätsmedizin Berlin, Philippstrasse 12, D-10115 Berlin, Germany.


Homeostasis describes the fundamental biological ability of individuals to maintain stable internal conditions in a changing environment. Homeostatic reactions include internal adjustments as well as behavioral responses. In vertebrates, behavioral responses are induced by the reward system. This system originates in the ventral tegmental area (VTA) and leads to increased dopamine levels in the forebrain whenever activated. A major inhibitor of VTA activity is the lateral habenula (LHb). This epithalamic structure is able to almost completely suppress dopamine release, either directly or via the rostromedial tegmental nucleus (RMTg), when rewarding expectations are not met. A major input to the LHb arises from the lateral hypothalamic area (LHA), an important regulator of the homeostatic system. Currently, little is known about the effects of the strong hypothalamic projection on the activity of LHb neurons. In the present study, we analyze neurotransmitters and cellular targets of the LHA-LHb projection in the rat. Therefore, anterograde tracing from the LHA was combined with the visualization of neurotransmitters in the LHb. These experiments revealed a mainly glutamatergic projection, probably exerting excitatory effects on the targeted LHb cells. These cellular targets were analyzed in a second step. Anterograde tracing from the LHA in combination with retrograde tracing from the VTA/RMTg region revealed that LHb neurons projecting to the VTA/RMTg region are densely targeted by the LHA projection. Visualization of synaptophysin at these contact sites indicates that the contact sites indeed are synapses. Taken together, the present study describes a strong mainly glutamatergic projection from the LHA that targets VTA/RMTg-projecting neurons in the LHb. These findings emphasize the potential role of the LHb as direct link between homeostatic areas and reward circuitries, which may be important for the control of homeostatic behaviors.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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