The habenula (Hb) is a bilateral, evolutionarily conserved epithalamic structure connecting forebrain and midbrain structures that has gained attention for its roles in depression, addiction, rewards processing, and motivation. Of its 2 major subdivisions, the medial Hb (MHb) and lateral Hb (LHb), MHb circuitry and function are poorly understood relative to those of the LHb. Prkar2a codes for cAMP-dependent protein kinase (PKA) regulatory subunit IIα (RIIα), a component of the PKA holoenzyme at the center of one of the major cell-signaling pathways conserved across systems and species. Type 2 regulatory subunits (RIIα, RIIβ) determine the subcellular localization of PKA, and unlike other PKA subunits, Prkar2a has minimal brain expression except in the MHb. We previously showed that RIIα-knockout (RIIα-KO) mice resist diet-induced obesity. In the present study, we report that RIIα-KO mice have decreased consumption of palatable, “rewarding” foods and increased motivation for voluntary exercise. Prkar2a deficiency led to decreased habenular PKA enzymatic activity and impaired dendritic localization of PKA catalytic subunits in MHb neurons. Reexpression of Prkar2a in the Hb rescued this phenotype, confirming differential roles for Prkar2a in regulating the drives for palatable foods and voluntary exercise. Our findings show that in the MHb decreased PKA signaling and dendritic PKA activity decrease motivation for palatable foods, while enhancing the motivation for exercise, a desirable combination of behaviors.


Edra London, Jason C. Wester, Michelle Bloyd, Shelby Bettencourt, Chris J. McBain, Constantine A. Stratakis


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