Excitatory transmission from the amygdala to nucleus accumbens facilitates reward seeking


The basolateral amygdala (BLA) has a crucial role in emotional learning irrespective of valence1,2,3,4,5,21,22,23. The BLA projection to the nucleus accumbens (NAc) is thought to modulate cue-triggered motivated behaviours4,6,7,24,25, but our understanding of the interaction between these two brain regions has been limited by the inability to manipulate neural-circuit elements of this pathway selectively during behaviour. To circumvent this limitation, we used in vivo optogenetic stimulation or inhibition of glutamatergic fibres from the BLA to the NAc, coupled with intracranial pharmacology and ex vivo electrophysiology. Here we show that optical stimulation of the pathway from the BLA to the NAc in mice reinforces behavioural responding to earn additional optical stimulation of these synaptic inputs. Optical stimulation of these glutamatergic fibres required intra-NAc dopamine D1-type receptor signalling, but not D2-type receptor signalling. Brief optical inhibition of fibres from the BLA to the NAc reduced cue-evoked intake of sucrose, demonstrating an important role of this specific pathway in controlling naturally occurring reward-related behaviour. Moreover, although optical stimulation of glutamatergic fibres from the medial prefrontal cortex to the NAc also elicited reliable excitatory synaptic responses, optical self-stimulation behaviour was not observed by activation of this pathway. These data indicate that whereas the BLA is important for processing both positive and negative affect, the glutamatergic pathway from the BLA to the NAc, in conjunction with dopamine signalling in the NAc, promotes motivated behavioural responding. Thus, optogenetic manipulation of anatomically distinct synaptic inputs to the NAc reveals functionally distinct properties of these inputs in controlling reward-seeking behaviours.

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Figure 1: Expression of ChR2–EYFP in BLA neurons and fibres projecting to the NAc.
Figure 2: In vivo optical activation of BLA-to-NAc fibres promotes self-stimulation.
Figure 3: In vivo optical inactivation of BLA-to-NAc fibres reduces behavioural responding for sucrose.
Figure 4: In vivo optical activation of mPFC-to-NAc fibres does not promote self-stimulation.


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We thank J. Phillips, V. Kharazia, A. Adamantidis and H.-C. Tsai for assistance and advice. We also thank V. Gukassyan and the UNC Neuroscience Center microscopy core facility. This study was supported by funds from NARSAD, ABMRF, The Foundation of Hope, and NIDA (DA029325), by startup funds provided by the Psychiatry Department at UNC Chapel Hill (G.D.S.) and by the State of California through the University of California at San Francisco (A.B.). D.R.S. was supported by F32AA018610.

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G.D.S. and A.B. designed, discussed and planned all experiments. G.D.S., D.R.S., A.M.S., W.A.v.L., J.E.H., S.C., K.M.T. and K.A.K. performed experiments. G.D.S., D.R.S., A.M.S. and W.A.v.L. analysed data. F.Z. and K.D. provided resources and training to G.D.S. G.D.S. and A.B. wrote the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Garret D. Stuber.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Supplementary Information

This file contains Supplementary Methods, an additional reference and Supplementary Figures 1-17 with legends. (PDF 930 kb)

Supplementary Movie 1

This movie file shows the optical self-stimulation of BLA-to-NAc fibres. (ZIP 3362 kb)

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Stuber, G., Sparta, D., Stamatakis, A. et al. Excitatory transmission from the amygdala to nucleus accumbens facilitates reward seeking. Nature 475, 377–380 (2011). https://doi.org/10.1038/nature10194

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