Characterization of novel excitatory actions of alpha2A-adrenergic receptors in the bed nucleus of the stria terminalis
Harris, Nicholas Andrew
Stress is a precipitating agent in neuropsychiatric disease and initiates relapse to drug-seeking behavior in addicted patients. Targeting the stress system in protracted abstinence from drugs of abuse with anxiolytics may be an effective treatment modality for substance use disorders. α2A-adrenergic receptors (α2A-ARs) in extended amygdala structures play key roles in dampening stress responses. Contrary to early thinking, α2A-ARs are expressed at non-noradrenergic sites in the brain. These non-noradrenergic α2A-ARs play important roles in stress-responses, but their cellular mechanisms of action are unclear. In humans, the α2A-AR agonist guanfacine reduces overall craving and uncouples craving from stress yet minimally affects relapse, potentially due to competing actions in the brain. Here we show that heteroceptor α2A-ARs postsynaptically enhance dorsal BNST (dBNST) neuronal activity in mice of both sexes. This effect is mediated by hyperpolarization-activated cyclic nucleotide-gated cation (HCN) channels, as inhibition of these channels is necessary and sufficient for excitatory actions. Finally, this excitatory action is mimicked by clozapine-N-oxide activation of the Gi-coupled DREADD hM4Di in dBNST neurons, and its activation elicits anxiety-like behavior in the elevated plus maze. Together, this data provides a framework for elucidating cell-specific actions of GPCR signaling and provides a potential mechanism whereby competing anxiogenic and anxiolytic actions of guanfacine may affect its clinical utility in the treatment of addiction.