Open Access Research

Investigating the influence of PFC transection and nicotine on dynamics of AMPA and NMDA receptors of VTA dopaminergic neurons

Ting Chen1, Die Zhang1, Andrei Dragomir1, Kunikazu Kobayashi2, Yasemin Akay1 and Metin Akay1*

  • * Corresponding author: Metin Akay

  • † Equal contributors

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Biomedical Engineering, Cullen College of Engineering, University of Houston, Houston, TX 77204, USA

2 Division of Computer Science and Systems Engineering, Graduate School of Science and Engineering, Yamaguchi University, Ube, Yamaguchi 755-8611, Japan

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Journal of NeuroEngineering and Rehabilitation 2011, 8:58  doi:10.1186/1743-0003-8-58

Published: 21 October 2011



All drugs of abuse, including nicotine, activate the mesocorticolimbic system that plays critical roles in nicotine reward and reinforcement development and triggers glutamatergic synaptic plasticity on the dopamine (DA) neurons in the ventral tegmental area (VTA). The addictive behavior and firing pattern of the VTA DA neurons are thought to be controlled by the glutamatergic synaptic input from prefrontal cortex (PFC). Interrupted functional input from PFC to VTA was shown to decrease the effects of the drug on the addiction process. Nicotine treatment could enhance the AMPA/NMDA ratio in VTA DA neurons, which is thought as a common addiction mechanism. In this study, we investigate whether or not the lack of glutamate transmission from PFC to VTA could make any change in the effects of nicotine.


We used the traditional AMPA/NMDA peak ratio, AMPA/NMDA area ratio, and KL (Kullback-Leibler) divergence analysis method for the present study.


Our results using AMPA/NMDA peak ratio showed insignificant difference between PFC intact and transected and treated with saline. However, using AMPA/NMDA area ratio and KL divergence method, we observed a significant difference when PFC is interrupted with saline treatment. One possible reason for the significant effect that the PFC transection has on the synaptic responses (as indicated by the AMPA/NMDA area ratio and KL divergence) may be the loss of glutamatergic inputs. The glutamatergic input is one of the most important factors that contribute to the peak ratio level.


Our results suggested that even within one hour after a single nicotine injection, the peak ratio of AMPA/NMDA on VTA DA neurons could be enhanced.