Opioids are effective analgesics but also carry a high abuse liability. Even after prolonged abstinence, former opioid addicts can remain vulnerable to relapse, particularly under stressful conditions. Most of the focus on opioid addiction and relapse mechanisms have centered on traditional dopaminergic reward pathways. Fewer studies have examined the role of the serotonin (5-hydroxytryptamine;5-HT) system in opioid addiction and relapse. Preliminary data in rodents indicate that stress interacts with opioid history to sensitize 5-HT dorsal raphe nucleus (DRN) neurons to GABAergic inhibition. More recent work identified a causal relationship between GABA signaling in the DRN and stress-induced opioid reinstatement. We hypothesize that this GABAergic sensitization results in serotonergic hypofunction and consequent dysphoric mood states which drive drug-seeking behaviors and therefore confer vulnerability to stress- induced opioid relapse. In the current application, we will employ two state-of-the-art genetic mutational strategies using the Cre-loxP system to engineer mice that are deficient in GABAA receptors selectively in the DRN or specifically in 5-HT neurons. First, we will confirm DRN- or 5-HT-specific deletion of the GABAA receptor in these mice using immunohistochemistry, electrophysiology and quantitative autoradiography. Next, we will test these mice in two complementary animal models of relapse in which a swim stress is used to reinstate previously extinguished morphine conditioned place-preference or self-administration. We predict that these mice will be protected from the GABAergic sensitization observed in the 5-HT DRN system following a stress-induced relapse model and will thus be less vulnerable to relapse in these two models. These studies will generate innovative animal models of opiate relapse resistance that will be a valuable tool to elucidate novel circuitry within the 5-HT DRN system that contribute to opiate relapse. This approach may identify novel targets for the treatment of opiate addiction and the prevention of relapse.
Opiate addiction and relapse are significant public health concerns and this proposal aims to investigate the neurobiological basis for these conditions with a novel focus on the role of the serotonin system. State-of- the-art genetic mutational strategies will be used in mice to manipulate inhibitory signaling at serotonin cells, generating new animal models of relapse resistance. This approach may identify novel targets for the treatment of opiate addiction and the prevention of relapse.