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The role of dopaminergic (DA) projections from the ventral tegmental area (VTA) in appetitive and rewarding behavior has been widely studied, but the VTA also has documented DA-independent functions. Several drugs of abuse, act on VTA GABAergic neurons, and most studies have focused on local inhibitory connections. Relatively little is known about VTA GABA projection neurons and their connections to brain sites outside the VTA. This study employed viral-vector-mediated cell-type-specific anterograde tracing, classical retrograde tracing, and immunohistochemistry to characterize VTA GABA efferents throughout the brain. We found that VTA GABA neurons project widely to forebrain and brainstem targets, including the ventral pallidum, lateral and magnocellular preoptic nuclei, lateral hypothalamus, and lateral habenula. Minor projections also go to central amygdala, mediodorsal thalamus, dorsal raphe, and deep mesencephalic nuclei, and sparse projections go to prefrontal cortical regions and to nucleus accumbens shell and core. These projections differ from the major VTA DA target regions. Retrograde tracing studies confirmed results from the anterograde experiments and differences in projections from VTA subnuclei. Retrogradely labeled GABA neurons were not numerous, and most non-tyrosine hydroxylase/retrogradely labeled cells lacked GABAergic markers. Many non-TH/retrogradely labeled cells projecting to several areas expressed VGluT2. VTA GABA and glutamate neurons project throughout the brain, most prominently to regions with reciprocal connections to the VTA. These data indicate that VTA GABA and glutamate neurons may have more DA-independent functions than previously recognized.

Original publication




Journal article


J Comp Neurol

Publication Date





3308 - 3334


AB_10013483, AB_10807945, AB_1091086, AB_1640532, AB_2079751, AB_2301998, AB_2311977, AB_300798, AB_390204, AB_90755, VGluT2, dopamine, lateral habenula, mesolimbic system, nif-0000-30467, retrograde, ventral pallidum, Animals, Cell Count, Choline O-Acetyltransferase, Dependovirus, Efferent Pathways, GABAergic Neurons, Glutamate Decarboxylase, Glutamates, Luminescent Proteins, Mice, Mice, Inbred C57BL, Mice, Transgenic, Stilbamidines, Substance P, Tyrosine 3-Monooxygenase, Ventral Tegmental Area, Vesicular Glutamate Transport Protein 2, Vesicular Inhibitory Amino Acid Transport Proteins