Ventral tegmental area dopamine cell activation during male rat sexual behavior regulates neuroplasticity and D-amphetamine cross-sensitization following sex abstinence

Lauren N. Beloate, Azar Omrani, Roger A. Adan, Ian C. Webb, Lique M. Coolen*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

Abstract

Experience with sexual behavior causes cross-sensitization of amphetamine reward, an effect dependent on a period of sexual reward abstinence. We previously showed that ΔFosB in the nucleus accumbens (NAc) is a key mediator of this cross-sensitization, potentially via dopamine receptor activation. However, the role of mesolimbic dopamine for sexual behavior or cross-sensitization between natural and drug reward is unknown. This was tested using inhibitory designer receptors exclusively activated by designer drugs in ventral tegmental area (VTA) dopamine cells. rAAV5/hSvn-DIO-hm4D-mCherry was injected into the VTA of TH::Cre adult male rats. Males received clozapine N-oxide (CNO) or vehicle injections before each of 5 consecutive days of mating or handling. Following an abstinence period of 7 d, males were tested for amphetamine conditioned place preference (CPP). Next, males were injected with CNO or vehicle before mating or handling for analysis of mating-induced cFos, sex experience-induced ΔFosB, and reduction of VTA dopamine soma size. Results showed that CNO did not affect mating behavior. Instead, CNO prevented sexual experience-induced cross-sensitization of amphetamine CPP, ΔFosB in the NAc and medial prefrontal cortex, and decreases in VTA dopamine soma size. Expression of hm4DmCherry was specific to VTA dopamine cells and CNO blocked excitation and mating-induced cFos expression in VTA dopamine cells. These findings provide direct evidence that VTA dopamine activation is not required for initiation or performance of sexual behavior. Instead, VTA dopamine directly contributes to increased vulnerability for drug use following loss of natural reward by causing neuroplasticity in the mesolimbic pathway during the natural reward experience.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)9949-9961
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Neuroscience
Volume36
Issue number38
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 21 Sept 2016

Keywords

  • FosB
  • Mesolimbic
  • Nucleus accumbens
  • Prefrontal cortex
  • Psychostimulant
  • Reward

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