Immunogold localization of the dopamine transporter: An ultrastructural study of the rat ventral tegmental area

Melissa J. Nirenberg, June Chan, Roxanne A. Vaughan, George R. Uhl, Michael J. Kuhar, Virginia M. Pickel

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29 Scopus citations


The dopamine transporter (DAT) plays an important role in the plasmalemmal reuptake of dopamine and, thus, in the termination of normal dopaminergic neurotransmission. DAT is also a major binding site for cocaine and other stimulants, the psychoactive effects of which are associated primarily with the inhibition of dopamine reuptake within mesocorticolimbic dopaminergic neurons. We used electron microscopy with an anti-peptide antiserum directed against the N-terminal domain of DAT to determine the subcellular localization of this transporter in the rat ventral tegmental area (VTA), the region that contains the cell bodies and dendrites of these dopaminergic neurons. We show that in the VTA, almost 95% of the DAT immunogold-labeled profiles are neuronal perikarya and dendrites, and the remainder are unmyelinated axons. Within perikarya and large proximal dendrites, almost all of the DAT immunogold particles are associated with intracellular membranes, including saccules of Golgi and cytoplasmic tubulovesicles. In contrast, within medium- to small-diameter dendrites and unmyelinated axons, most of the DAT gold particles are located on plasma membranes. In dually labeled tissue, peroxidase reaction product for the catecholamine-synthesizing enzyme tyrosine hydroxylase is present in DAT- immunoreactive profiles. These findings suggest that intermediate and distal dendrites are both the primary sites of dopamine reuptake and the principal targets of cocaine and related psycho-stimulants within dopaminergic neurons in the VTA.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)4037-4044
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Neuroscience
Issue number11
StatePublished - 1997
Externally publishedYes


  • amphetamine
  • cocaine
  • dendritic release
  • dopamine
  • electron microscopy
  • immunogold
  • mesocorticolimbic
  • midbrain
  • neurotoxicity
  • plasma membrane
  • transporter
  • ultrastructure
  • uptake
  • ventral tegmental area


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