Coordination of brain wide activity dynamics by dopaminergic neurons

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Several neuropsychiatric conditions, such as addiction, schizophrenia, and depression may arise in part from dysregulated activity of ventral tegmental area dopaminergic (THVTA) neurons, as well as from more global maladaptation in neurocircuit function. However, whether THVTA activity affects large-scale brain-wide function remains unknown. Here, we selectively activated THVTA neurons in transgenic rats and measured resulting changes in whole-brain activity using stimulus-evoked functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). Selective optogenetic stimulation of THVTA neurons not only enhanced cerebral blood volume (CBV) signals in striatal target regions in a dopamine receptor dependent fashion, but also engaged many additional anatomically defined regions throughout the brain. In addition, repeated pairing of THVTA neuronal activity with forepaw stimulation, produced an expanded brain-wide sensory representation. These data suggest that modulation of THVTA neurons can impact brain dynamics across many distributed anatomically distinct regions, even those that receive little to no direct THVTA input.


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