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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2012 Dec 11;109(50):20726-31. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1211258109. Epub 2012 Nov 26.

Prefrontal D1 dopamine signaling is required for temporal control.

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Department of Neurology, Carver College of Medicine, University of Iowa, Iowa City, IA 52242, USA.


Temporal control, or how organisms guide movements in time to achieve behavioral goals, depends on dopamine signaling. The medial prefrontal cortex controls many goal-directed behaviors and receives dopaminergic input primarily from the midbrain ventral tegmental area. However, this system has never been linked with temporal control. Here, we test the hypothesis that dopaminergic projections from the ventral tegmental area to the prefrontal cortex influence temporal control. Rodents were trained to perform a fixed-interval timing task with an interval of 20 s. We report several results: first, that decreasing dopaminergic neurotransmission using virally mediated RNA interference of tyrosine hydroxylase impaired temporal control, and second that pharmacological disruption of prefrontal D1 dopamine receptors, but not D2 dopamine receptors, impaired temporal control. We then used optogenetics to specifically and selectively manipulate prefrontal neurons expressing D1 dopamine receptors during fixed-interval timing performance. Selective inhibition of D1-expressing prefrontal neurons impaired fixed-interval timing, whereas stimulation made animals more efficient during task performance. These data provide evidence that ventral tegmental dopaminergic projections to the prefrontal cortex influence temporal control via D1 receptors. The results identify a critical circuit for temporal control of behavior that could serve as a target for the treatment of dopaminergic diseases.

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