Combined α 2 - and D 2 -receptor blockade activates noradrenergic and dopaminergic neurons, but extracellular dopamine in the prefrontal cortex is determined by uptake and release from noradrenergic terminals
Experimental and clinical evidence indicates a deficit of release and function of dopamine in schizophrenia and suggests that α 2 -adrenoceptor antagonists rescue dopamine deficit and improve the antipsychotic efficacy of D 2 -receptor antagonists. In anesthetized male rats, we investigated how the blockade of α 2 - and D 2 -receptors by atipamezole and raclopride, respectively, modified the firing of noradrenergic neurons in the locus coeruleus (LC) and dopaminergic neurons in the ventral tegmental area (VTA). In freely moving rats, we studied how atipamezole and raclopride modified extracellular noradrenaline, dopamine, and DOPAC levels in the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) through microdialysis. When administered alone, atipamezole activated LC noradrenaline but not VTA dopamine cell firing. Combined with raclopride, atipamezole activated dopamine cell firing above the level produced by raclopride. Atipamezole increased extracellular dopamine to the same level, whether administered alone or combined with raclopride. In the presence of the noradrenaline transporter (NET) inhibitor, atipamezole combined with raclopride increased extracellular dopamine beyond the level produced by either compound administered alone. The results suggest that a) the D 2 -autoreceptor blockade is required for LC noradrenaline to activate VTA cell firing; b) the level of dopamine released from dopaminergic terminals is determined by NET; c) the elevation of extracellular dopamine levels in the mPFC is the resultant of dopamine uptake and release from noradrenergic terminals, independent of dopaminergic cell firing and release; and d) LC noradrenergic neurons are an important target for treatments to improve the prefrontal deficit of dopamine in neuropsychiatric pathologies.