A VTA to Basal Amygdala Dopamine Projection Contributes to Signal Salient Somatosensory Events during Fear Learning

The amygdala is a brain area critical for the formation of fear memories. However, the nature of the teaching signal(s) that drive plasticity in the amygdala are still under debate. Here, we use optogenetic methods to investigate the contribution of ventral tegmental area (VTA) dopamine neurons to auditory-cued fear learning in male mice. Using anterograde and retrograde labeling, we found that a sparse and relatively evenly distributed population of VTA neurons projects to the basal amygdala (BA). In vivo optrode recordings in behaving mice showed that many VTA neurons, among them putative dopamine neurons, are excited by footshocks, and acquire a response to auditory stimuli during fear learning. Combined cfos imaging and retrograde labeling in dopamine transporter (DAT) Cre mice revealed that a large majority of BA projectors (>95%) are dopamine neurons, and that BA projectors become activated by the tone-footshock pairing of fear learning protocols. Finally, silencing VTA dopamine neurons, or their axon terminals in the BA during the footshock, reduced the strength of fear memory as tested 1 d later, whereas silencing the VTA-central amygdala (CeA) projection had no effect. Thus, VTA dopamine neurons projecting to the BA contribute to fear memory formation, by coding for the saliency of the footshock event and by signaling such events to the basal amygdala.


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The Journal of Neuroscience, 40, 20, 3969-3980
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May 13 2020
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Note: The file is under embargo until: 2020-11-13


 Record created 2020-05-18, last modified 2020-05-18

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