Journal article Open Access

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

Brodie, Mark S.; Shefner, Sarah A.; Dunwiddie, Thomas V.

The ventral tegmental area (VT A) 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 VT A 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 VT A 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 VT A slice.
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