Cannabis can be rewarding or aversive. Cannabis reward is believed to be mediated by activation of cannabinoid CB1 receptors (CB1Rs) on GABAergic neurons that disinhibit dopaminergic neurons in the ventral tegmental area (VTA). However, little is known about the mechanisms underlying cannabis aversion in rodents. In the present study, CB1Rs are found not only on VTA GABAergic neurons, but also on VTA glutamatergic neurons that express vesicular glutamate transporter 2 (VgluT2). We then used Cre-Loxp transgenic technology to selectively delete CB1Rs in VgluT2-expressing glutamatergic neurons (VgluT2-CB1 -/-) and Cre-dependent viral vector to express light-sensitive channelrhodopsin-2 into VTA glutamatergic neurons. We found that photoactivation of VTA glutamatergic neurons produced robust intracranial self-stimulation (ICSS) behavior, which was dose-dependently blocked by DA receptor antagonists, but enhanced by cocaine. In contrast, Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol (Δ9-THC), the major psychoactive component of cannabis, produced dose-dependent conditioned place aversion and a reduction in the above optical ICSS in VgluT2-cre control mice, but not in VgluT2-CB1 -/- mice. These findings suggest that activation of CB1Rs in VgluT2-expressing glutamate neurons produces aversive effects that might explain why cannabinoid is not rewarding in rodents and might also account for individual differences in the hedonic effects of cannabis in humans.
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