Reducing Ventral Tegmental Dopamine D2 Receptor Expression Selectively Boosts Incentive Motivation (2015)

Neuropsychopharmacology. 2015 Mar 4. doi: 10.1038/npp.2015.60.

de Jong JW1, Roelofs TJ1, Mol FM1, Hillen AE1, Meijboom KE1, Luijendijk MC1, van der Eerden HA1, Garner KM1, Vanderschuren LJ2, Adan RA1.


Altered mesolimbic dopamine signaling has been widely implicated in addictive behavior. For the most part, this work has focused on dopamine within the striatum, but there is emerging evidence for a role of the auto-inhibitory, somatodendritic dopamine D2 receptor (D2R) in the ventral tegmental area (VTA) in addiction. Thus, decreased midbrain D2R expression has been implicated in addiction in humans. Moreover, knockout of the gene encoding the D2R receptor (Drd2) in dopamine neurons has been shown to enhance the locomotor response to cocaine in mice.

Therefore, we here tested the hypothesis that decreasing D2R expression in the VTA of adult rats, using shRNA knockdown, promotes addiction-like behavior in rats responding for cocaine or palatable food. Rats with decreased VTA D2R expression showed markedly increased motivation for both sucrose and cocaine under a progressive ratio schedule of reinforcement, but the acquisition or maintenance of cocaine self administration were not affected.

They also displayed enhanced cocaine-induced locomotor activity, but no change in basal locomotion. This robust increase in incentive motivation was behaviorally specific, since we did not observe any differences in fixed ratio responding, extinction responding, reinstatement or conditioned suppression of cocaine and sucrose seeking.

We conclude that VTA D2R knockdown results in increased incentive motivation, but does not directly promote other aspects of addiction-like behavior.