Ventral tegmental area GABA neurons mediate stress-induced blunted reward-seeking in mice

Daniel C. Lowes, Linda A. Chamberlin, Lisa N. Kretsge, Emma S. Holt, Atheir I. Abbas, Alan J. Park, Lyubov Yusufova, Zachary H. Bretton, Ayesha Firdous, Armen G. Enikolopov, Joshua A. Gordon, Alexander Z. Harris

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

32 Scopus citations


Decreased pleasure-seeking (anhedonia) forms a core symptom of depression. Stressful experiences precipitate depression and disrupt reward-seeking, but it remains unclear how stress causes anhedonia. We recorded simultaneous neural activity across limbic brain areas as mice underwent stress and discovered a stress-induced 4 Hz oscillation in the nucleus accumbens (NAc) that predicts the degree of subsequent blunted reward-seeking. Surprisingly, while previous studies on blunted reward-seeking focused on dopamine (DA) transmission from the ventral tegmental area (VTA) to the NAc, we found that VTA GABA, but not DA, neurons mediate stress-induced blunted reward-seeking. Inhibiting VTA GABA neurons disrupts stress-induced NAc oscillations and rescues reward-seeking. By contrast, mimicking this signature of stress by stimulating NAc-projecting VTA GABA neurons at 4 Hz reproduces both oscillations and blunted reward-seeking. Finally, we find that stress disrupts VTA GABA, but not DA, neural encoding of reward anticipation. Thus, stress elicits VTA-NAc GABAergic activity that induces VTA GABA mediated blunted reward-seeking.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number3539
JournalNature communications
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 1 2021

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Chemistry
  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Physics and Astronomy


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