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Science. 2013 Apr 26;340(6131):449-53. doi: 10.1126/science.1234152.

Neurotransmitter switching in the adult brain regulates behavior.

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Neurobiology Section, Division of Biological Sciences and Center for Neural Circuits and Behavior, University of California-San Diego, La Jolla, CA 92093-0357, USA.


Neurotransmitters have been thought to be fixed throughout life, but whether sensory stimuli alter behaviorally relevant transmitter expression in the mature brain is unknown. We found that populations of interneurons in the adult rat hypothalamus switched between dopamine and somatostatin expression in response to exposure to short- and long-day photoperiods. Changes in postsynaptic dopamine receptor expression matched changes in presynaptic dopamine, whereas somatostatin receptor expression remained constant. Pharmacological blockade or ablation of these dopaminergic neurons led to anxious and depressed behavior, phenocopying performance after exposure to the long-day photoperiod. Induction of newly dopaminergic neurons through exposure to the short-day photoperiod rescued the behavioral consequences of lesions. Natural stimulation of other sensory modalities may cause changes in transmitter expression that regulate different behaviors.

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