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!