Long-lasting synaptic regulation of dopamine neurons by astrocytes in the Ventral Tegmental Area
. 2021-03-23; :
The plasticity of glutamatergic transmission in the Ventral Tegmental Area (VTA) represents a fundamental mechanism in the modulation of dopamine neuron burst firing and the phasic dopamine release at VTA target regions. These processes encode basic behavioral responses, including locomotor activity, learning and motivated-behaviors. Here we describe a hitherto unidentified mechanism of long-lasting potentiation of glutamatergic synapses on DA neurons. We found that VTA astrocytes respond to dopamine neuron bursts with Ca2+ elevations that require activation of endocannabinoid CB1 and dopamine D2 receptors colocalized at the same astrocytic process. Astrocytes, in turn, release glutamate that, through presynaptic metabotropic glutamate receptor activation coupled with neuronal nitric oxide production, induces long-lasting potentiation of excitatory synapses on adjacent dopamine neurons. Consistent with this finding, selective activation of VTA astrocytes increases dopamine neuron bursts in vivo and induces locomotor hyperactivity. Astrocytes play, therefore, a key role in the modulation of VTA dopamine neuron activity.