Attenuating GABA A receptor signaling in dopamine neurons selectively enhances reward learning and alters risk preference in mice

Jones Griffith Parker, Matthew J. Wanat, Marta E. Soden, Kinza Ahmad, Larry S. Zweifel, Nigel S. Bamford, Richard D. Palmiter

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

43 Scopus citations


Phasic dopamine (DA) transmission encodes the value of reward-predictive stimuli and influences both learning and decision-making. Altered DA signaling is associated with psychiatric conditions characterized by risky choices such as pathological gambling. These observations highlight the importance of understanding how DA neuron activity is modulated. While excitatory drive onto DA neurons is critical for generating phasic DA responses, emerging evidence suggests that inhibitory signaling also modulates these responses. To address the functional importance of inhibitory signaling in DA neurons, we generated mice lacking the β 3 subunit of the GABA A receptor specifically in DA neurons (β3-KO mice) and examined their behavior in tasks that assessed appetitive learning, aversive learning, and risk preference. DA neurons in midbrain slices from β 3-KO mice exhibited attenuated GABA-evoked IPSCs. Furthermore, electrical stimulation of excitatory afferents to DA neurons elicited more DA release in the nucleus accumbens of β 3-KO mice as measured by fast-scan cyclic voltammetry. β 3-KO mice were more active than controls when given morphine, which correlated with potential compensatory upregulation of GABAergic tone onto DA neurons. β 3-KO mice learned faster in two food-reinforced learning paradigms, but extinguished their learned behavior normally. Enhanced learning was specific for appetitive tasks, as aversive learning was unaffected in β 3-KO mice. Finally, we found that β 3-KO mice had enhanced risk preference in a probabilistic selection task that required mice to choose between a small certain reward and a larger uncertain reward. Collectively, these findings identify a selective role for GABA A signaling in DA neurons in appetitive learning and decision-making.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)17103-17112
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Neuroscience
Issue number47
StatePublished - Nov 23 2011

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Neuroscience


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