GLP-1 receptor signaling in the laterodorsal tegmental nucleus attenuates cocaine seeking by activating GABAergic circuits that project to the VTA

Schmidt Lab members Dr. Nicole Hernandez, Kael Ragnini, Riley Merkel, Dr. Yafang Zhang and lab alumnae Vanessa Weir and Kyla Mace recently published a paper in Molecular Psychiatry. Find the abstract below:

An emerging preclinical literature suggests that targeting central glucagon-like peptide-1 receptors (GLP-1Rs) may represent a novel approach to treating cocaine use disorder. However, the exact neural circuits and cell types that mediate the suppressive effects of GLP-1R agonists on cocaine-seeking behavior are largely unknown. The laterodorsal tegmental nucleus (LDTg) expresses GLP-1Rs and functions as a neuroanatomical hub connecting the nucleus tractus solitarius (NTS), the primary source of central GLP-1, with midbrain and forebrain nuclei known to regulate cocaine-seeking behavior. The goal of this study was to characterize the role of LDTg GLP-1R-expressing neurons and their projections to the ventral tegmental area (VTA) in the reinstatement of cocaine-seeking behavior, an animal model of relapse. Here, we showed that administration of the GLP-1R agonist exendin-4 (Ex-4) directly into the LDTg significantly attenuated cocaine seeking at a dose that did not affect sucrose seeking, ad libitum food intake, or body weight. In addition, our studies revealed that selectively activating NTS-to-LDTg circuits attenuated cocaine seeking via a GLP-1R-dependent mechanism. We also demonstrated, for the first time, that GLP-1Rs are expressed primarily on GABAergic neurons in the LDTg and that the efficacy of Ex-4 to reduce cocaine seeking depends, in part, on activation of LDTg-to-VTA GABAergic projections. Taken together, these studies identify a central mechanism by which Ex-4 attenuates cocaine seeking and highlight GABAergic GLP-1R-expressing circuits in the midbrain as important anti-craving pathways in regulating cocaine craving-induced relapse.

We congratulate Dr. Hernandez on the publication of the final portion of her thesis research at University of Pennsylvania!