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BioMed Research International
Volume 2014 (2014), Article ID 687469, 11 pages
Research Article

Optogenetic Activation of the Excitatory Neurons Expressing CaMKIIα in the Ventral Tegmental Area Upregulates the Locomotor Activity of Free Behaving Rats

1Qiushi Academy for Advanced Studies, Zhejiang University, Hangzhou 310027, China
2Institute of Biomedical Engineering, Zhejiang University, Hangzhou 310027, China

Received 4 December 2013; Accepted 14 January 2014; Published 10 March 2014

Academic Editor: Ting Zhao

Copyright © 2014 Songchao Guo et al. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


The ventral tegmental area (VTA) plays an important role in motivation and motor activity of mammals. Previous studies have reported that electrical stimulations of the VTA’s neuronal projections were able to upregulate the locomotor activity of behaving rats. However, which types of neurons in the VTA that take part in the activation remain elusive. In this paper we employed optogenetic technique to selectively activate the excitatory neurons expressing CaMKIIα in the VTA region and induced a higher locomotor activity for free behaving rats. Further behavioral studies indicated that reward learning mediated in the enhancement of the rat locomotor activity. Finally the immunohistochemistry studies explored that the excitatory neurons under the optogenetic activation in VTA were partly dopaminergic that may participate as a vital role in the optogenetic activation of the locomotor activity. In total, our study provided an optogenetic approach to selectively upregulate the locomotor activity of free behaving rats, thus facilitating both neuroscience researches and neural engineering such as animal robotics in the future.