Dopamine release from ventral tegmental area (VTA) neurons assists in learning goal-oriented behaviors and mediates the pleasurable aspects of most drugs of abuse. Understanding how the excitability of VTA neurons is regulated by synaptic inputs and membrane properties is crucial if one is to understand how dopamine release is controlled. 5'-Adenosine monophosphate (AMP)-activated protein kinase (AMPK) is a master enzyme that regulates cellular metabolism. In peripheral tissues, AMPK activates biochemical pathways that increase energy production while reducing energy expenditure. Although widely expressed in brain, its function in central neurons is largely unknown. Preliminary data from our lab suggest that activators of AMPK potentiate the hyperpolarizing current evoked by ATP-sensitive K+ (K-ATP) channels, reduce the desensitization of dopamine D2 autoreceptors, and inhibit the influence of excitatory synaptic transmission in VTA neurons. The over-arching hypothesis of our proposed studies is that AMPK activation augments inhibitory influences on VTA neurons. Patch pipettes will be used to record whole-cell currents and potentials in single VTA neurons in slices of rat midbrain. Western immunoblot will be used to quantify levels of phosphorylated and unphosphorylated AMPK in midbrain slices that have been incubated in the presence and absence of AMPK activators and/or inhibitors.
Aim #1 will characterize the effect of AMPK activators on currents evoked by the K- ATP opener diazoxide.
Aim #2 will investigate second messenger systems and identify transmitter receptors that mediate the ability of AMPK activators to reduce dopamine D2 autoreceptor desensitization.
Aim #3 will investigate mechanisms and sites of action by which AMPK inhibits glutamate-mediated synaptic transmission in the VTA.
Aim #4 will characterize mechanisms by which AMPK activation inhibits burst firing in VTA dopamine neurons. Results of these studies may suggest new pharmacological strategies for treating dopamine-dependent disorders.

Public Health Relevance

Dopamine released from ventral tegmental area (VTA) neurons assists in the learning of goal-oriented behaviors and it mediates the pleasurable effects of drugs of abuse. Preliminary data from our lab suggest that activators of 5'-adenosine monophosphate (AMP)-activated protein kinase (AMPK) reduce VTA neuronal excitability by altering synaptic transmission and ion channel function. Results of our studies may suggest new pharmacological strategies for the treatment of mood disorders, learning disorders, and drug abuse.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)
Research Project (R01)
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Molecular Neuropharmacology and Signaling Study Section (MNPS)
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Sorensen, Roger
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Oregon Health and Science University
Schools of Medicine
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Wu, Yan-Na; Shen, Ke-Zhong; Johnson, Steven W (2017) Differential actions of AMP kinase on ATP-sensitive K+ currents in ventral tegmental area and substantia nigra zona compacta neurons. Eur J Neurosci 46:2746-2753
Shen, Ke-Zhong; Wu, Yan-Na; Munhall, Adam C et al. (2016) AMP kinase regulates ligand-gated K-ATP channels in substantia nigra dopamine neurons. Neuroscience 330:219-28