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GAD2-expression defines a class of excitatory lateral habenula neurons in mice that project to the raphe and pontine tegmentum

Quina, LA;Walker, A;Morton, G;Han, V;Turner, EE;

The lateral habenula (LHb) sends complex projections to several areas of the mesopontine tegmentum, the raphe, and the hypothalamus. However, few markers have been available to distinguish subsets of LHb neurons that may serve these pathways. In order to address this complexity, we examined the mouse and rat LHb for neurons that express the GABA biosynthesis enzymes glutamate decarboxylase 1 and 2 (GAD1, GAD2), and the vesicular GABA transporter (VGAT). The mouse LHb contains a population of neurons that express GAD2, while the rat LHb contains discrete populations of neurons that express GAD1 and VGAT. However, we could not detect single neurons in either species that co-express a GABA synthetic enzyme and VGAT, suggesting that these LHb neurons do not use GABA for conventional synaptic transmission. Instead, all of the neuronal types expressing a GABAergic marker in both species showed co-expression of the glutamate transporter VGluT2. Anterograde tract-tracing of the projections of GAD2-expressing LHb neurons in Gad2Cre mice, combined with retrograde tracing from selected downstream nuclei, show that LHb-GAD2 neurons project selectively to the midline structures in the mesopontine tegmentum, including the median raphe and nucleus incertus, and only sparsely innervate the hypothalamus, rostromedial tegmental nucleus, and ventral tegmental area. Postsynaptic recording of LHb-GAD2 neuronal input to tegmental neurons confirms that glutamate, not GABA, is the fast neurotransmitter in this circuit. Thus GAD2 expression can serve as a marker for functional studies of excitatory neurons serving specific LHb output pathways in mice.SIGNFICANCE STATEMENT The lateral habenula provides a major link between subcortical forebrain areas and the dopamine (DA) and serotonin (5HT) systems of the midbrain and pons, and it has been implicated in reward mechanisms and the regulation of mood states. Few markers have been available for the specific cell types and complex output pathways of the lateral habenula. Here we examined the expression of genes mediating GABAergic and glutamatergic transmission in the mouse and rat LHb, where no neurons in either species expressed a full complement of GABAergic markers, and all expressed the glutamatergic marker VGluT2. Consistent with this, in mice the LHb GAD2 neurons are excitatory and appear to use only glutamate for fast synaptic transmission. Copyright 2020 Quina et al.