Electrophysiological and pharmacological characteristics of nigral dopaminergic neurons in the conscious, head-restrained rat

Mauro Fà, Giampaolo Mereu, Veronica Ghiglieri, Alessandra Meloni, Paola Salis, Gian Luigi Gessa

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Extracellular single-unit recordings of nigral dopamine (DA) neurons were obtained from conscious rats habituated to having their body suspended in a cloth jacket and their head immobilized in the stereotaxic frame by means of a "restraining platform" permanently fixed to the skull. The electrophysiological characteristics of DA neurons from head-restrained rats and their responses to apomorphine and haloperidol were compared with single-unit recordings obtained from rats lightly and deeply anesthetized with chloral hydrate and from mesencephalic slices. Head-restrained rats showed a higher number of spontaneously active DA neurons and a higher percentage of bursting neurons than lightly and deeply anesthetized rats. Indeed, bursting activity was rare in deeply anesthetized rats and was totally absent in slices. Haloperidol was more potent and effective in stimulating the firing rate and bursting activity in head-restrained than in lightly anesthetized rats, while it was virtually ineffective in deeply anesthetized rats and totally ineffective in slices. On the other hand, DA neurons in head-restrained rats showed the same average firing rate as DA neurons in lightly and deeply anesthetized rats and in slices. The potency of apomorphine in inhibiting the firing rate, and that of haloperidol in reversing apomorphine effect, did not vary among the different in vivo preparations. The results suggest that chloral hydrate anesthesia blunts or suppresses not only the excitatory inputs which normally sustain the number of spontaneously active DA neurons and their bursting activity, but also the feedback excitation of DA neurons following haloperidol-induced D2 receptor blockade. On the other hand, chloral hydrate anesthesia modifies neither D2 autoreceptor sensitivity to apomorphine and haloperidol nor the automatic genesis of action potentials. The head-restrained rat appears to be an important model for studies into the pharmacology and physiology of DA neurons.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-9
Number of pages9
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Apr 1 2003


  • Dopamine
  • Electrophysiology
  • Head-restrained rat
  • Neuroleptics
  • Substantia nigra

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Physiology
  • Pharmacology


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