Mechanisms in ethanol modulation of GABA release onto dopaminergic neurons of the ventral tegmental area
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Activation of ventral tegmental area (VTA) dopaminergic (DA) neurons by ethanol has been implicated in the rewarding and reinforcing actions of ethanol. GABAergic transmission is thought to play an important role in regulating the activity of DA neurons. While at most central synapses ethanol generally increases inhibitory synaptic transmission, no studies have explored the effect of acute ethanol on GABAergic transmission in the VTA. Here we investigated how ethanol modulates GABAergic transmission in the VTA in relation to the overall action of ethanol on VTA-DA neuron activity. We demonstrated that ethanol dose-dependently enhances action potential-dependent and -independent GABA release onto VTA-DA neurons. Utilizing whole-cell voltage clamp recording techniques, ethanol increased both spontaneous and miniature inhibitory postsynaptic current (s/mIPSC) frequency while having minimal effect on s/mIPSC amplitude. The ethanol enhancement in GABA release was independent of GABAB auto-receptor inhibition of release. Intra-terminal calcium levels regulate neurotransmitter release, thus we investigated how modulation of calcium levels would affect the ethanol-enhancement in GABA release. Ethanol enhanced mIPSC frequency in the presence of the voltage-gated calcium channel blockers, cadmium chloride and nicardipine. However, blockade of intracellular calcium stores with 2-APB and cyclopiazonic acid eliminated the ethanol-enhancement of mIPSC frequency. Intracellular calcium stores are regulated via Gq protein-coupled receptors such as the 5-HT2C receptor. 5-HT2C receptor activation robustly enhanced mIPSC frequency whereas blockade inhibited the ethanol-enhancement in mIPSC frequency. These observations suggest that increased calcium release from intracellular stores via 5-HT2C receptor activation is involved in the ethanol-enhancement of GABA release onto VTA-DA neurons. Utilizing cell-attached current-clamp recordings, we demonstrated that the ethanol-enhancement of VTA-DA neuron activity is modulated by the concurrent enhancement in GABA release. Blockade and activation of GABAA receptors enhanced and reversed, respectively, the stimulatory effect of ethanol on VTA-DA neurons. Mu-opioid receptors (MORs) on GABAergic interneurons have been demonstrated to modulate both basal and ethanol-enhanced VTA-DA activity in vivo, though we failed to demonstrate such an effect in vitro. Overall, the results of this study suggest that the 5-HT2C receptor and intra-terminal calcium-dependent ethanol enhancement in GABA release acts to regulate the overall stimulatory effect of ethanol on VTA-DA activity.