Cholinergic neurotransmission in different subregions of the substantia nigra differentially controls dopaminergic neuronal excitability and locomotion




Estakhr, Jasem

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Midbrain dopamine (DA) neurons play a key role in a wide range of behaviours, from motor control, motivation, reward and reinforcement learning. Disorders of midbrain dopaminergic signaling is involved in a variety of nervous system disorders including Parkinson’s disease, schizophrenia and drug addiction. Understanding the basis of how dopaminergic neuronal activity in the substantia nigra pars compacta (SNc) governs movements, requires a deep appreciation of how afferent inputs of various neurotransmitter systems create a neuronal circuit that precisely modulates DA neuronal excitability. Two brainstem cholinergic neuclei, the laterodorsal tegmental nucleus (LDT) and the pedunculopontine tegmental nucleus (PPT), have major cholinergic projections to the SNc, despite the fact that the precise mechanisms of cholinergic modulation of DA neuronal activity mediated by nAChRs remain unclear. To dissect out the modulatory roles of the cholinergic system in regulating DAergic neuronal activity in the SNc and locomotion, we employed optogenetics along with electrophysiological and behavioural approaches. My results from whole-cell recordings from lateral and medial SNc DA neurons revealed that lateral DA neurons received predominantly excitatory nAChR mediated cholinergic neurotransmission (monosynaptic nicotinic or disynaptic glutamatergic responses) resulting in greater excitability of DA neurons both at 5 and 15 Hz blue LED light stimulation of cholinergic terminals. However, medial SNc DA neurons received predominantly biphasic current responses that were both inhibitory GABAergic and excitatory nAChR mediated cholinergic neurotransmission. This led to a net inhibition of action potential firing of DA neurons at 5 Hz blue LED light stimulation of cholinergic terminals, while at 15 Hz stimulation there was an initial inhibition followed by a significant increase of the baseline action potential firing frequency. Furthermore, in vivo optogenetic experiments showed that activation of the cholinergic system in the medial SNc resulted in decreased locomotion, while for the lateral SNc led to increased locomotion. Together our findings provide new insights into the role of the cholinergic system in modulating DA neurons in the SNc. The cholinergic inputs to different subregions of the SNc may regulate the excitability of the DA neurons differentially within a tight range from excitation to inhibition which may translate into different kinds of locomotor behaviour.



substantia nigra, dopaminergic neurons, cholinergic, nicotinic acetylcholine receptors, channelrhodopsin, optogenetics, motor, locomotion