GABAergic control of rat substantia nigra dopaminergic neurons: Role of globus pallidus and substantia nigra pars reticulata

P. Celada, C. A. Paladini, J. M. Tepper

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108 Scopus citations


Dopaminergic neurons in vivo fire spontaneously in three distinct patterns or modes. It has previously been shown that the firing pattern of substantia nigra dopaminergic neurons can be differentially modulated by local application of GABA(A) and GABA(B) receptor antagonists. The GABA(A) antagonists, bicuculline or picrotoxin, greatly increase burst firing in dopaminergic neurons whereas GABA(B) antagonists cause a modest shift away from burst firing towards pacemaker-like firing. The three principal GABAergic inputs to nigral dopaminergic neurons arise from striatum, globus pallidus and from the axon collaterals of nigral pars reticulata projection neurons, each of which appear to act in vivo primarily on GABA(A), receptors (see preceding paper). In this study we attempted to determine on which afferent pathway(s) GABA(A) antagonists were acting to cause burst firing. Substantia nigra dopaminergic neurons were studied by single unit extracellular recordings in urethane anesthetized rats during pharmacologically induced inhibition and excitation of globus pallidus. Muscimol-induced inhibition of pallidal neurons produced an increase in the regularity of firing of nigral dopaminergic neurons together with a slight decrease in firing rate. Bicuculline-induced excitation of globus pallidus neurons produced a marked increase in burst firing together with a modest increase in firing rate. These changes in firing rate were in the opposite direction to what would be expected for a monosynaptic GABAergic pallidonigral input. Examination of the response of pars reticulata GABAergic neurons to similar manipulations of globus pallidus revealed that the firing rates of these neurons were much more sensitive to changes in globus pallidus neuron firing rate than dopaminergic neurons and that they responded in the opposite direction. Pallidal inhibition produced a dramatic increase in the firing rate of pars reticulata GABAergic neurons while pallidal excitation suppressed the spontaneous activity of pars reticulata GABAergic neurons. These data suggest that globus pallidus exerts significant control over the firing rate and pattern of substantia nigra dopaminergic neurons through a disynaptic pathway involving nigral pars reticulata GABAergic neurons and that at least one important way in which local application of bicuculline induces burst firing of dopaminergic neurons is by disinhibition of this tonic inhibitory input.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)813-825
Number of pages13
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 1999

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Neuroscience(all)


  • Basal ganglia
  • Bicuculline
  • Dopamine
  • Firing pattern
  • GABA
  • Muscimol


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