Distinct roles of presynaptic dopamine receptors in the differential modulation of the intrinsic synapses of medium-spiny neurons in the nucleus accumbens

BMC Neuroscience20078:8

DOI: 10.1186/1471-2202-8-8

Received: 20 September 2006

Accepted: 19 January 2007

Published: 19 January 2007



In both schizophrenia and addiction, pathological changes in dopamine release appear to induce alterations in the circuitry of the nucleus accumbens that affect coordinated thought and motivation. Dopamine acts principally on medium-spiny GABA neurons, which comprise 95% of accumbens neurons and give rise to the majority of inhibitory synapses in the nucleus. To examine dopamine action at single medium-spiny neuron synapses, we imaged Ca2+ levels in their presynaptic varicosities in the acute brain slice using two-photon microscopy.


Presynaptic Ca2+ rises were differentially modulated by dopamine. The D1/D5 selective agonist SKF81297 was exclusively facilitatory. The D2/D3 selective agonist quinpirole was predominantly inhibitory, but in some instances it was facilitatory. Studies using D2 and D3 receptor knockout mice revealed that quinpirole inhibition was either D2 or D3 receptor-mediated, while facilitation was mainly D3 receptor-mediated. Subsets of varicosities responded to both D1 and D2 agonists, showing that there was significant co-expression of these receptor families in single medium-spiny neurons. Neighboring presynaptic varicosities showed strikingly heterogeneous responses to DA agonists, suggesting that DA receptors may be differentially trafficked to individual varicosities on the same medium-spiny neuron axon.


Dopamine receptors are present on the presynaptic varicosities of medium-spiny neurons, where they potently control GABAergic synaptic transmission. While there is significant coexpression of D1 and D2 family dopamine receptors in individual neurons, at the subcellular level, these receptors appear to be heterogeneously distributed, potentially explaining the considerable controversy regarding dopamine action in the striatum, and in particular the degree of dopamine receptor segregation on these neurons. Assuming that post-receptor signaling is restricted to the microdomains of medium-spiny neuron varicosities, the heterogeneous distribution of dopamine receptors on individual varicosities is likely to encode patterns in striatal information processing.