Dysfunctional dopamine signaling is implicated in various neuropsychological disorders. Previously, we reported that dopamine increases D1 receptor (D1R)-expressing medium spiny neuron (MSN) excitability and firing rates in the nucleus accumbens (NAc) via the PKA/Rap1/ERK pathway to promote reward behavior. Here, the results show that the D1R agonist, SKF81297, inhibits KCNQ-mediated currents and increases D1R-MSN firing rates in murine NAc slices, which is abolished by ERK inhibition. In vitro ERK phosphorylates KCNQ2 at Ser414 and Ser476; in vivo, KCNQ2 is phosphorylated downstream of dopamine signaling in NAc slices. Conditional deletion of Kcnq2 in D1R-MSNs reduces the inhibitory effect of SKF81297 on KCNQ channel activity, while enhancing neuronal excitability and cocaine-induced reward behavior. These effects are restored by wild-type, but not phospho-deficient KCNQ2. Hence, D1R-ERK signaling controls MSN excitability via KCNQ2 phosphorylation to regulate reward behavior, making KCNQ2 a potential therapeutical target for psychiatric diseases with a dysfunctional reward circuit.
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