Phasic dopamine neuron activity elicits unique mesofrontal plasticity in adolescence

Surjeet Mastwal, Yizhou Ye, Ming Ren, Dennisse V. Jimenez, Keri Martinowich, Charles R. Gerfen, Kuan Hong Wang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

35 Scopus citations


The mesofrontal dopaminergic circuit, which connects the midbrain motivation center to the cortical executive center, is engaged in control of motivated behaviors. In addition, deficiencies in this circuit are associated with adolescent-onset psychiatric disorders in humans. Developmental studies suggest that the mesofrontal circuit exhibits a protracted maturation through adolescence. However, whether the structure and function of this circuit are modifiable by activity in dopaminergic neurons during adolescence remains unknown. Using optogenetic stimulation and in vivo two-photon imaging in adolescent mice, we found that phasic, but not tonic, dopamine neuron activity induces the formation of mesofrontal axonal boutons. In contrast, in adult mice, the effect of phasic activity diminishes. Furthermore, our results showed that dopaminergic and glutamatergic transmission regulate this axonal plasticity in adolescence and inhibition of dopamine D2-type receptors restores this plasticity in adulthood. Finally, we found that phasic activation of dopamine neurons also induces greater changes in mesofrontal circuit activity and psychomotor response in adolescent mice than in adult mice. Together, our findings demonstrate that the structure and function of the mesofrontal circuit are modifiable by phasic activity in dopaminergic neurons during adolescence and suggest that the greater plasticity in adolescence may facilitate activity-dependent strengthening of dopaminergic input and improvement in behavioral control.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)9484-9496
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Neuroscience
Issue number29
StatePublished - 2014


  • Adolescence
  • Dopamine
  • Frontal cortex
  • In vivo imaging
  • Optogenetics
  • Phasic activity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)


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