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Sweet and bitter taste stimuli activate VTA projection neurons in the parabrachial nucleus

Boughter, JD;Lu, L;Saites, LN;Tokita, K;

This study investigated neural projections from the parabrachial nucleus (PBN), a gustatory and visceral processing area in the brainstem, to the ventral tegmental area (VTA) in the midbrain. The VTA contains a large population of dopaminergic neurons that have been shown to play a role in reward processing. Anterograde neural tracing methods were first used to confirm that a robust projection from the caudal PBN terminates in the dorsal VTA; this projection was larger on the contralateral side. In the next experiment, we combined dual retrograde tracing from the VTA and the gustatory ventral posteromedial thalamus (VPMpc) with taste-evoked Fos protein expression, which labels activated neurons. Mice were stimulated through an intraoral cannula with sucrose, quinine, or water, and PBN sections were processed for immunofluorescent detection of Fos and retrograde tracers. The distribution of tracer-labeled PBN neurons demonstrated that the populations of cells projecting to the VTA or VPMpc are largely independent. Quantification of cells double labeled for Fos and either tracer demonstrated that sucrose and quinine were equally effective in activating both pathways. These results indicate that information about both appetitive and aversive tastes is delivered to a key midbrain reward interface via direct projections from the PBN. Copyright 2019. Published by Elsevier B.V.