Inhibition of GABAergic neurotransmission in
the ventral tegmental area by cannabinoids

Szabo B, Siemes S, Wallmichrath I.
Institut fur Experimentelle und Klinische Pharmakologie und Toxikologie,
Albertstrasse 25, D-79104 Freiburg i. Br., Germany.
Eur J Neurosci 2002 Jun;15(12):2057-61


It was shown recently that Delta9-tetrahydrocannabinol, like several other drugs eliciting euphoria, stimulates dopaminergic neurons projecting from the ventral tegmental area (VTA) to the nucleus accumbens. The aim of the present work was to clarify the mechanism of this stimulatory effect. Our hypothesis was that cannabinoids depress the GABAergic inhibition of dopaminergic neurons in the VTA. Electrophysiological properties of VTA neurons in rat coronal midbrain slices were studied with the patch-clamp technique. GABA(A) receptor-mediated inhibitory postsynaptic currents (IPSCs) were evoked by electrical stimulation in the vicinity of the recorded neurons. The amplitude of IPSCs was depressed by the synthetic mixed CB1/CB2 cannabinoid receptor agonist WIN55212-2 (10(-6) and 10(-5) m). The CB1 cannabinoid receptor antagonist SR141716A (10(-6) m) prevented the inhibition produced by WIN55212-2 (10(-5) m). Two observations showed that IPSCs were depressed with a presynaptic mechanism. WIN55212-2 (10(-5) m) did not change the amplitude of miniature IPSCs recorded in the presence of tetrodotoxin. Currents evoked by pressure ejection of muscimol from a pipette were also not changed by WIN55212-2 (10(-5) m). The results indicate that activation of CB1 cannabinoid receptors inhibits GABAergic neurotransmission in the VTA with a presynaptic mechanism. Depression of the GABAergic inhibitory input of dopaminergic neurons would increase their firing rate in vivo. Accordingly, dopamine release in the projection region of VTA neurons, the nucleus accumbens, would also increase.

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