Mu-opioid receptors are widely distributed in the central and peripheral nervous systems. The action of opioids in the mesolimbic dopamine pathway activates the reward pathway(s) that are a key point in the multistep process leading to abuse and addiction. Opioid receptors are expressed in multiple parts of the mesolimbic system and the action of opioids in one area of this complex system may contribute to, but will surely not dominate all aspects of the rewarding properties of opioids. For the past 20 years the action of opioids in the ventral midbrain dopamine system rested on the GABA interneurons of the VTA. Inhibition of those interneurons was proposed to increase the activity of dopamine neurons through a disinhibition. It is now clear that the action of opioids in the ventral midbrain is more complex. There are a number of GABA neurons that innervate dopamine neurons and many of those neurons express opioid receptors. Each of these afferent pathways can now be manipulated selectively with the use of optogenetic tools such that a comprehensive picture of opioid action can be obtained. This proposal will identify the opioid sensitive GABA inputs to dopamine neurons in naive and morphine treated animals. In order for disinhibition to be functionally relevant, there has to be a substantial amount of inhibition initially. The hypothesisis that the source of inhibition is dependent on the state of the animal. Each inhibitory pathway will be recruited differentially depending on the behavioral state of the animal. The proposed experiments will use brain slice experiments to demonstrate that the relative role of different GABA afferent pathways changes during withdrawal from chronic treatment of animals with morphine. Knowledge that different afferent pathways mediate reward and withdrawal will allow a directed approach to limit both reward and withdrawal.

Public Health Relevance

Opioids activate the mesolimbic reward pathway at multiple sites. The inhibition of GABA inputs to dopamine neurons is one important site of opioid action(s). This study will use selective activation of GABA inputs in slices from naive and morphine treated animals to determine which GABA pathway dominates inhibition of dopamine neurons. Knowledge of the inhibitory control of dopamine neurons will facilitate the development of protocols that will reduce the abuse liability of opioids.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)
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Molecular Neuropharmacology and Signaling Study Section (MNPS)
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Sorensen, Roger
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Oregon Health and Science University
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United States
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