The aim of the two studies presented here was to evaluate the effects of cocaine and mefloquine (MFQ) on γ-aminobutyric acid (GABA) and dopamine (DA) neurons in the ventral tegmental area (VTA). Cocaine: In vivo, lower doses of intravenous cocaine (0.25-0.5 mg/kg), or methamphetamine (METH), enhanced VTA GABA neuron firing rate via D2/D5 receptor activation. Higher cocaine doses (1.0-2.0 mg/kg) inhibited their firing rate. Cocaine and lidocaine inhibited the firing rate and spike discharges induced by stimulation of the internal capsule (ICPSDs) at dose levels 0.25-2 mg/kg (IC50 1.2 mg/kg), but neither DA nor METH reduced ICPSDs. In VTA GABA neurons in vitro, cocaine reduced (IC50 13 µM) current-evoked spikes and sodium currents in a use-dependent manner. In VTA DA neurons, cocaine reduced IPSCs (IC50 13 µM), increased IPSC paired-pulse facilitation, and decreased sIPSC frequency, without affecting mIPSC frequency or amplitude. These findings suggest cocaine reduces activity-dependent GABA release on DA neurons in the VTA, and that cocaine's use-dependent blockade of VTA GABA neuron voltage-sensitive sodium channels (VSSCs) may synergize with its DAT inhibiting properties to enhance mesolimbic DA transmission implicated in cocaine reinforcement. Mefloquine: Mefloquine (MFQ) is an anti-malarial agent, Connexin-36 (Cx36) gap junction blocker, 5-HT3 antagonist, and calcium ionophore. Mounting evidence of a Cx36-mediated VTA GABA neuron syncytium suggests MFQ-related dysphoria may attribute to its gap junction blocking effects on VTA synaptic homeostasis. We observed that MFQ (25 µM) increased DA neuron spontaneous IPSC frequency 6 fold, and mIPSC 3 fold. Carbenoxolone (CBX, 100 µM) only increased sIPSC frequency 2 fold, and did not affect DA mIPSC frequency. Ondansetron did not mimic MFQ. Additionally, MFQ did not affect VTA DA evoked IPSC paired pulse ratio (PPR). However, Mefloquine did induce a 3.5 fold increase in bath-applied GABA current. Remarkably, MFQ did not affect VTA GABA neuron inhibition. At VTA DA neuron excitatory synapses MFQ increased sEPSC frequency in-part due to an increase in the AMPA/NMDA ratio. These finding suggest MFQ alters VTA synapses differentially depending on neuron and synapse type, and that these alterations appear to involve MFQ's gap junction blocking and calcium ionophore actions.



College and Department

Life Sciences; Neuroscience



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GABA, VTA, dopamine, cocaine, mefloquine, 5HT3, mesolimbic, Connexin 36, gap junctions, electrical synapse, D2/D5