Description: Ascending dopaminergic projections from neurons located in the Ventral Tegmental Area (VTA) are key to the etiology, dysfunction, and control of motivation, learning, and addiction. Due to the evolutionary conservation of this nucleus and the extensive use of mice as disease models, establishing an assay for VTA dopaminergic signaling in the mouse brain is crucial for the translational investigation of motivational control as well as of neuronal function phenotypes for diseases and interventions. In this article we use optogenetic stimulation directed at VTA dopaminergic neurons in combination with functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI), a method widely used in human deep brain imaging. We present a comprehensive assay producing the first whole-brain opto-fMRI map of dopaminergic activation in the mouse, and show that VTA dopaminergic system function is consistent with its structural VTA projections, diverging only in a few key aspects. While the activation map predominantly highlights target areas according to their relative projection densities (e.g., strong activation of the nucleus accumbens and low activation of the hippocampus), it also includes areas for which a structural connection is not well established (such as the dorsomedial striatum). We further detail the variability of the assay with regard to multiple experimental parameters, including stimulation protocol and implant position, and provide evidence-based recommendations for assay reuse, publishing both reference results and a reference analysis workflow implementation.
Related article: http://doi.org/10.1038/s41398-022-01812-5
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