Modulating Dopamine Signaling and Behavior with Chemogenetics: Concepts, Progress, and Challenges

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For more than 60 years, dopamine (DA) has been known as a critical modulatory neurotransmitter regulating locomotion, reward-based motivation, and endocrine functions. Disturbances in DA signaling have been linked to an array of different neurologic and psychiatric disorders, including Parkinson's disease, schizophrenia, and addiction, but the underlying pathologic mechanisms have never been fully elucidated. One major obstacle limiting interpretation of standard pharmacological and transgenic interventions is the complexity of the DA system, which only appears to widen as research progresses. Nonetheless, development of new genetic tools, such as chemogenetics, has led to an entirely new era for functional studies of neuronal signaling. By exploiting receptors that are engineered to respond selectively to an otherwise inert ligand, so-called Designer Receptors Exclusively Activated by Designer Drugs (DREADDs), chemogenetics enables pharmacological remote control of neuronal activity. Here we review the recent, extensive application of this technique to the DA field and how its use has advanced the study of the DA system and contributed to our general understanding of DA signaling and related behaviors. Moreover, we discuss the challenges and pitfalls associated with the chemogenetic technology, such as the metabolism of the DREADD ligand clozapine N-oxide (CNO) to the D2 receptor antagonist clozapine. We conclude that despite the recent concerns regarding CNO, the chemogenetic toolbox provides an exceptional approach to study neuronal function. The huge potential should promote continued investigations and additional refinements to further expound key mechanisms of DA signaling and circuitries in normal as well as maladaptive behaviors.

Original languageEnglish
JournalPharmacological Reviews
Issue number2
Pages (from-to)123-156
Number of pages34
Publication statusPublished - 2019

ID: 214455695