Dopamine neurons of the ventral tegmental area (VTA) are involved at early phases of drug addiction. Even the first in vivo dose of various abused drugs induces glutamate receptor plasticity at the excitatory synapses of these neurons. Benzodiazepines that suppress the inhibitory GABAergic interneurons in the VTA via facilitation of synaptic GABAA receptors have induced neuroplasticity in dopamine neurons due to this disinhibitory mechanism. Here, we have tested a non-benzodiazepine direct GABA site agonist 4,5,6,7-tetrahydroisoxazolol[4,5-c]pyridine-3-ol (THIP) (also known as gaboxadol) that acts preferentially via highaffinity extrasynaptic GABAA receptors. A single sedative dose of THIP (6 mg/kg) to mice induced glutamate receptor plasticity for at least 6 d after administration. Increased AMPA/NMDA receptor current ratio and increased frequency, amplitude, and rectification of AMPA receptor responses suggested persistent targeting of GluA2-lacking AMPA receptors in excitatory synapses of VTA dopamine neurons ex vivo after THIP administration. This effect was abolished in GABAA receptor δ-/- mice, which have a loss of extrasynaptic GABAA receptors. In behavioral experiments, we found neither acute reinforcement in intravenous selfadministration sessions with THIP at relevant doses using a yoked control paradigm in mice nor in baboons using a standard paradigm for assessing drug abuse liability; nor was any place preference found after conditioning sessions with various doses of THIP but rather a persistent aversion in 6 mg/kg THIP-conditioned mice. In summary, we found that activation of extrasynaptic δ-subunit-containing GABAA receptors leads to glutamate receptor plasticity of VTA dopamine neurons, but is not rewarding, and, instead, induces aversion.
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