Overlapping representations of food and social stimuli in mouse VTA dopamine neurons

Lindsay Willmore, Adelaide R. Minerva, Ben Engelhard, Malavika Murugan, Brenna McMannon, Nirja Oak, Stephan Y. Thiberge, Catherine J. Peña, Ilana B. Witten

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Dopamine neurons of the ventral tegmental area (VTADA) respond to food and social stimuli and contribute to both forms of motivation. However, it is unclear whether the same or different VTADA neurons encode these different stimuli. To address this question, we performed two-photon calcium imaging in mice presented with food and conspecifics and found statistically significant overlap in the populations responsive to both stimuli. Both hunger and opposite-sex social experience further increased the proportion of neurons that respond to both stimuli, implying that increasing motivation for one stimulus increases overlap. In addition, single-nucleus RNA sequencing revealed significant co-expression of feeding- and social-hormone-related genes in individual VTADA neurons. Taken together, our functional and transcriptional data suggest overlapping VTADA populations underlie food and social motivation.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)3541-3553.e8
Issue number22
StatePublished - Nov 15 2023

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Neuroscience


  • dopamine
  • hunger
  • internal state
  • motivation
  • snRNA-seq
  • social
  • two-photon calcium imaging
  • ventral tegmental area

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