Dorsal striatal manipulations including stimulation of dopamine release and activation of medium spiny neurons (MSNs) are sufficient to drive reinforcement-based learning. Glutamatergic innervation of the striatum by the cortex and thalamus is a critical determinant of MSN activity and local regulation of dopamine release. However, the relationship between striatal glutamatergic afferents and behavioral reinforcement is not well understood. We evaluated the reinforcing properties of optogenetic stimulation of thalamostriatal terminals, which are associated with vesicular glutamate transporter 2 (Vglut2) expression, in the dorsomedial striatum (DMS), a region implicated in goal-directed behaviors. In mice expressing channelrhodopsin-2 (ChR2) under control of the Vglut2 promoter, optical stimulation of the DMS reinforced operant lever-pressing behavior. Mice also acquired operant self-stimulation of thalamostriatal terminals when ChR2 expression was virally targeted to the intralaminar thalamus. Stimulation trains that supported operant responding evoked dopamine release in the DMS and excitatory postsynaptic currents in DMS MSNs. Our previous work demonstrated that the presynaptic G protein-coupled receptor metabotropic glutamate receptor 2 (mGlu2) robustly inhibits glutamate and dopamine release induced by activation of thalamostriatal afferents. Thus, we examined the regulation of thalamostriatal self-stimulation by mGlu2. Administration of an mGlu2/3 agonist or an mGlu2-selective positive allosteric modulator reduced self-stimulation. Conversely, blockade of these receptors increased thalamostriatal self-stimulation, suggesting that endogenous activation of these receptors negatively modulates the reinforcing properties of thalamostriatal activity. These findings demonstrate that stimulation of thalamic terminals in the DMS is sufficient to reinforce a self-initiated action, and that thalamostriatal reinforcement is constrained by mGlu2 activation.
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We thank all members of the Lovinger laboratory for helpful discussions and Guoxiang Luo for assistance with genotyping. We thank Dr. David Kupferschmidt for technical advice and comments on the manuscript.
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Johnson, K.A., Voyvodic, L., Loewinger, G.C. et al. Operant self-stimulation of thalamic terminals in the dorsomedial striatum is constrained by metabotropic glutamate receptor 2. Neuropsychopharmacol. 45, 1454–1462 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41386-020-0626-y