Ethanol-seeking behavior is expressed directly through an extended amygdala to midbrain neural circuit

Melanie M. Pina, Christopher L. Cunningham

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Scopus citations


Abstinent alcohol-dependent individuals experience an enduring sensitivity to cue-induced craving and relapse to drinking. There is considerable evidence indicating that structures within the midbrain and extended amygdala are involved in this process. Individually, the ventral tegmental area (VTA) and the bed nucleus of the stria terminalis (BNST) have been shown to modulate cue-induced ethanol-seeking behavior. It is hypothesized that cue-induced seeking is communicated through a direct projection from the BNST to VTA. In the current experiments, an intersectional viral strategy was used in DBA/2J mice to selectively target and inhibit BNST projections to the VTA during a test of ethanol conditioned place preference (CPP). Inhibitory designer receptors exclusively activated by designer drugs (hM4Di DREADDs) were expressed in VTA-projecting BNST (BNST-VTA) cells by infusing a retrograde herpes-simplex virus encoding cre recombinase (HSV-Cre) into VTA and a cre-inducible adeno-associated virus encoding hM4Di (AAV-DIO-hM4Di) into BNST. Before testing the expression of preference, clozapine-N-oxide (CNO) was peripherally administered to activate hM4Di receptors and selectively inhibit these cells. Ethanol CPP expression was blocked by CNO-mediated inhibition of BNST-VTA cells. A follow-up study revealed this effect was specific to CNO activation of hM4Di as saline- and CNO-treated mice infused with a control vector (HSV-GFP) in place of HSV-Cre showed significant CPP. These findings establish a role for a direct BNST input to VTA in cue-induced ethanol-seeking behavior.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)83-91
Number of pages9
JournalNeurobiology of Learning and Memory
StatePublished - Jan 1 2017


  • BNST
  • CPP
  • Ethanol
  • HSV
  • VTA

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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