Conditions of increased cognitive or emotional demand activate dopamine release in a regionally selective manner. Whereas the brief millisecond response of dopamine neurons to salient stimuli suggests that dopamine's influence on behaviour may be limited to signalling certain cues, the prolonged availability of dopamine in regions such as the prefrontal cortex and nucleus accumbens is consistent with the well described role of dopamine in maintaining motivation states, associative learning and working memory. The behaviourally elicited terminal release of dopamine is generally attributed to increased excitatory drive on dopamine neurons. Our findings here, however, indicate that this increase may involve active removal of a tonic inhibitory control on dopamine neurons exerted by the lateral habenula (LHb). Inhibition of LHb in behaving animals transiently increased dopamine release in the prefrontal cortex, nucleus accumbens and dorsolateral striatum. The inhibitory influence was more pronounced in the nucleus accumbens and striatum than in the prefrontal cortex. This pattern of regional dopamine activation after LHb inhibition mimicked conditions of reward availability but not increased cognitive demand. Electrical or chemical stimulation of LHb produced minimal reduction of extracellular dopamine, suggesting that in an awake brain the inhibition associated with tonic LHb activity represents a near-maximal influence on dopamine neurotransmission. These data indicate that LHb may be critical for functional differences in dopamine neurons by preferentially modulating dopamine neurons that project to the nucleus accumbens over those neurons that primarily project to the prefrontal cortex.
- Substance abuse
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