Elevated expression of serotonin 5-HT2A receptors in the rat ventral tegmental area enhances vulnerability to the behavioral effects of cocaine

David V. Herin, Marcy J. Bubar, Patricia K. Seitz, Mary L. Thomas, Gilbert R. Hillman, Yevgeniya I. Tarasenko, Ping Wu, Kathryn A. Cunningham

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


The dopamine mesocorticoaccumbens pathway which originates in the ventral tegmental area (VTA) and projects to the nucleus accumbens and prefrontal cortex is a circuit important in mediating the actions of psychostimulants.The function of this circuit is modulated by the actions of serotonin (5-HT) at 5-HT2A receptors (5-HT2AR) localized to the VTA. In the present study, we tested the hypothesis that virally mediated overexpression of 5-HT2AR in the VTA would increase cocaine-evoked locomotor activity in the absence of alterations in basal locomotor activity. A plasmid containing the gene for the 5-HT2AR linked to a synthetic marker peptide (Flag) was created and the construct was packaged in an adeno-associated virus vector (rAAV-5-HT2AR-Flag). This viral vector (2 μl; 109-10 transducing units/ml) was unilaterally infused into the VTA of male rats, while control animals received an intra-VTA infusion of Ringer's solution.Virus-pretreated rats exhibited normal spontaneous locomotor activity measured in a modified open-field apparatus at 7, 14, and 21 days following infusion. After an injection of cocaine (15 mg/kg, ip), both horizontal hyperactivity and rearing were significantly enhanced in virus-treated rats (p < 0.05). Immunohistochemical analysis confirmed expression of Flag and overexpression of the 5-HT2AR protein. These data indicate that the vulnerability of adult male rats to hyperactivity induced by cocaine is enhanced following increased levels of expression of the 5-HT2AR in the VTA and suggest that the 5-HT2AR receptor in the VTA plays a role in regulation of responsiveness to cocaine.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberArticle 2
JournalFrontiers in Psychiatry
Issue numberFEB
StatePublished - 2013


  • 5-HT receptor
  • AAV
  • Cocaine
  • Locomotor activity
  • Psychostimulants
  • Serotonin
  • Ventral tegmental area
  • Virally mediated gene transfer

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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