Date: 30 Jul 2014

Increased number of TH-immunoreactive cells in the ventral tegmental area after deep brain stimulation of the anterior nucleus of the thalamus

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Dopamine (DA) has been long implicated with the processes of memory. In long-term memory, the hippocampus and ventral tegmental area (VTA) use DA to enhance long-term potentiation, while prefrontal DA D1 receptors are involved in working memory. Deep brain stimulation (DBS) of specific brain areas have been shown to affect memory impairments in animal models. Here, we tested the hypothesis that DBS could reverse memory impairments by increasing the number of dopaminergic cells in the VTA. Rats received DBS at the level of the mammillothalamic tract, the anterior nucleus of the thalamus, and entorhinal cortex before euthanasia. These regions are part of the so-called memory circuit. Brain sections were processed for c-Fos and tyrosine hydroxylase (TH) immunocytochemistry in the VTA and the substantia nigra pars compacta (SNc). c-Fos, TH and c-Fos/TH immunoreactive cells were analyzed by means of stereology and confocal microscopy. Our results showed that DBS of the anterior nucleus of the thalamus induced substantial higher numbers of TH-immunoreactive cells in the VTA, while there were no significant differences between the experimental groups in the number of TH immunoreactive cells in the SNc, c-Fos immunoreactive cells and c-Fos/TH double-labeled cells in both the SNc and VTA. Our findings suggest a phenotypic switch, or neurotransmitter respecification, of DAergic cells specifically in the VTA which may be induced by DBS in the anterior nucleus of the thalamus.

J. A. D. Dela Cruz and S. Hescham have contributed equally to this study.