The central nucleus of the amygdala plays a significant role in alcohol use and other affective disorders; however, the genetically-defined neuronal subtypes and projections that govern these behaviors are not well known. Here we show that neurotensin neurons in the central nucleus of the amygdala of male mice are activated by in vivo ethanol consumption and that genetic ablation of these neurons decreases ethanol consumption and preference in non-ethanol-dependent animals. This ablation did not impact preference for sucrose, saccharin, or quinine. We found that the most robust projection of the central amygdala neurotensin neurons was to the parabrachial nucleus, a brain region known to be important in feeding behaviors, conditioned taste aversion, and alarm. Optogenetic stimulation of projections from these neurons to the parabrachial nucleus is reinforcing, and increases ethanol drinking as well as consumption of sucrose and saccharin solutions. These data suggest that this central amygdala to parabrachial nucleus projection influences the expression of reward-related phenotypes and is a novel circuit promoting consumption of ethanol and palatable fluids.
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