Hyperexcitability of VTA dopaminergic neurons in male offspring exposed to physical or psychological prenatal stress

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Prenatal stress (PS) exposure leads to cognitive and behavioral alterations in offspring including an increased risk of substance abuse and anxiety disorders. Signalling from dopamine (DA) neurons of the ventral tegmental area (VTA) in the mesoaccumbal and mesocortical pathways plays a vital role in drug dependency and anxiety behavior. To provide further knowledge about the changes in drug seeking behavior and anxiety behaviors in prenatally stressed mice, we conducted ex vivo investigations in VTA brain slices of adult male PS offspring to evaluate the effects of two types of PS (physical vs. psychological) on activity of DA neurons. Elevated plus maze (EPM) was used to assess anxiety-like behaviors and conditioned place preference (CPP) was used to evaluate drug reinforcing effects in mice. An increased anxiety-like behavior and preference to morphine was observed in prenatally stressed mice. PS VTA DA cells exhibited greater Ih current and a higher frequency and amplitude of sEPSCs, which were consistent with a greater degree of pre- or postsynaptic excitability of the VTA. This was confirmed by lower rheobase and lower firing thresholds in PS VTA neurons, as well as increases in spontaneous firing frequency. When taken together, these data suggest that alterations in VTA DA neurons in this mouse model of prenatal stress might be associated with later life alterations in drug seeking and anxiety-like behaviors through their role in mesocortical and mesoaccumbal pathways.

Original languageEnglish
JournalProgress in Neuro-Psychopharmacology & Biological Psychiatry
Pages (from-to)109923
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 12 Mar 2020

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