Dopamine (DA) type 1 receptor (D1R) signaling in the striatum presumably regulates neuronal excitability and reward-related behaviors through PKA. However, whether and how D1Rs and PKA regulate neuronal excitability and behavior remain largely unknown. Here, we developed a phosphoproteomic analysis method to identify known and novel PKA substrates downstream of the D1R and obtained more than 100 candidate substrates, including Rap1 GEF (Rasgrp2). We found that PKA phosphorylation of Rasgrp2 activated its guanine nucleotide-exchange activity on Rap1. Cocaine exposure activated Rap1 in the nucleus accumbens in mice. The expression of constitutively active PKA or Rap1 in accumbal D1R-expressing medium spiny neurons (D1R-MSNs) enhanced neuronal firing rates and behavioral responses to cocaine exposure through MAPK. Knockout of Rap1 in the accumbal D1R-MSNs was sufficient to decrease these phenotypes. These findings demonstrate a novel DA-PKA-Rap1-MAPK intracellular signaling mechanism in D1R-MSNs that increases neuronal excitability to enhance reward-related behaviors. Nagai et al. identified more than 100 candidate substrates of PKA downstream of dopamine receptor D1R by a kinase-oriented phosphoproteomic analysis and demonstrated a novel DA-PKA-Rap1-MAPK intracellular signaling mechanism in D1R-MSNs which increases neuronal excitability to enhance reward-related behaviors.
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