Ventral tegmental area glutamate neurons mediate nonassociative consequences of stress

Dillon J. McGovern, Annie Ly, Koy L. Ecton, David T. Huynh, Emily D. Prévost, Shamira C. Gonzalez, Connor J. McNulty, Andrew R. Rau, Shane T. Hentges, Tanya L. Daigle, Bosiljka Tasic, Michael V. Baratta, David H. Root

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Exposure to trauma is a risk factor for the development of a number of mood disorders, and may enhance vulnerability to future adverse life events. Recent data demonstrate that ventral tegmental area (VTA) neurons expressing the vesicular glutamate transporter 2 (VGluT2) signal and causally contribute to behaviors that involve aversive or threatening stimuli. However, it is unknown whether VTA VGluT2 neurons regulate transsituational outcomes of stress and whether these neurons are sensitive to stressor controllability. This work adapted an operant mouse paradigm to examine the impact of stressor controllability on VTA VGluT2 neuron function as well as the role of VTA VGluT2 neurons in mediating transsituational stressor outcomes. Uncontrollable (inescapable) stress, but not physically identical controllable (escapable) stress, produced social avoidance and exaggerated fear in male mice. Uncontrollable stress in females led to exploratory avoidance of a novel brightly lit environment. Both controllable and uncontrollable stressors increased VTA VGluT2 neuronal activity, and chemogenetic silencing of VTA VGluT2 neurons prevented the behavioral sequelae of uncontrollable stress in male and female mice. Further, we show that stress activates multiple genetically-distinct subtypes of VTA VGluT2 neurons, especially those that are VGluT2+VGaT+, as well as lateral habenula neurons receiving synaptic input from VTA VGluT2 neurons. Our results provide causal evidence that mice can be used for identifying stressor controllability circuitry and that VTA VGluT2 neurons contribute to transsituational stressor outcomes, such as social avoidance, exaggerated fear, or anxiety-like behavior that are observed within trauma-related disorders.

Original languageEnglish
JournalMolecular Psychiatry
StateAccepted/In press - 2022


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