Attenuated dopamine signaling after aversive learning is restored by ketamine to rescue escape actions

Mingzheng Wu, Samuel Minkowicz, Vasin Dumrongprechachan, Pauline Hamilton, Lei Xiao, Yevgenia Kozorovitskiy*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Scopus citations


Escaping aversive stimuli is essential for complex organisms, but prolonged exposure to stress leads to maladaptive learning. Stress alters neuronal activity and neuromodulatory signaling in distributed networks, modifying behavior. Here, we describe changes in dopaminergic neuron activity and signaling following aversive learning in a learned helplessness paradigm in mice. A single dose of ketamine suffices to restore escape behavior after aversive learning. Dopaminergic neuron activity in the ventral tegmental area (VTA) systematically varies across learning, correlating with future sensitivity to ketamine treatment. Ketamine’s effects are blocked by chemogenetic inhibition of dopamine signaling. Rather than directly altering the activity of dopaminergic neurons, ketamine appears to rescue dopamine dynamics through actions in the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC). Chemogenetic activation of Drd1 receptor positive mPFC neurons mimics ketamine’s effects on behavior. Together, our data link neuromodulatory dynamics in mPFC-VTA circuits, aversive learning, and the effects of ketamine.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere64041
StatePublished - May 2021

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Immunology and Microbiology(all)
  • Neuroscience(all)


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