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Brain Res. 1990 Jan 29;508(1):65-9.

Ethanol increases the firing rate of dopamine neurons of the rat ventral tegmental area in vitro.

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Neuroscience Research, Abbott Laboratories, Abbott Park, IL 60064.


The ventral tegmental area (VTA) is a brain region rich in dopamine-containing neurons. Since most agents which act as substrates for self-administration increase dopaminergic outflow in the mesolimbic or mesocortical areas, the VTA slice preparation may be useful for identifying drugs with potential for abuse. While ethanol (EtOH) is a drug of abuse which has been widely studied, the properties of ethanol which contribute to its abuse potential are not known. We have developed a brain slice preparation of the VTA in order to study the action of EtOH on putative dopamine neurons. Concentrations of EtOH from 20 to 320 mM produce a dose-dependent excitation of the dopamine-type neurons of the VTA. About 89% of neurons which have electrophysiological characteristics established for presumed dopamine-containing neurons were excited by ethanol in the pharmacologically relevant concentration range. This excitation persists in low-calcium, high-magnesium medium, which suggests a direct excitatory action of EtOH on dopamine-type cells in the VTA slice.

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