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Neuroscience. 2003;118(3):695-708.

Postnatal development of mu-opioid receptors in the rat caudate-putamen nucleus parallels asymmetric synapse formation.

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  • 1Division of Neurobiology, Department of Neurology and Neuroscience, Joan and Sanford I. Weill Medical College of Cornell University, 411 East 69th Street, New York, NY 10021, USA.


The mu-opioid receptor (MOR) in the caudate-putamen nucleus (CPN) appears early during prenatal development, and shows a patch-like distribution throughout the postnatal period and adulthood. In the adult rat CPN, neurons in patch compartments receive glutamatergic excitatory input mainly from the cortex through synapses onto spines, many of which express MORs. Thus, MOR expression in spines may be related to corticostriatal synaptogenesis. We used electron microscopic immunocytochemistry to determine potential age-dependent changes in the distribution pattern of MOR during postnatal synaptogenesis in the rat CPN. Immunogold-silver labeling revealed that the dendritic plasmalemmal density of MOR at postnatal day (P) 0 was significantly lower than, but after P10 was similar to, that of adult. In contrast, such age-dependent changes were not observed in axon terminals. Stereological analysis of immunoperoxidase labeling for MOR showed a good correlation in the developmental numerical densities of synapses with MOR-labeled spines and those of total asymmetric axospinous synapses, linear correlation coefficient r=0.99. Synapses with MOR-labeled dendrites, however, had a low correlation with axodendritic synapses (r=0.61), and synapses with MOR-labeled terminals showed no correlation with axospinous and axodendritic synapses (r=0.19). These results provide ultrastructural evidence that the targeting of MOR on the plasma membrane of dendrites and spines parallels the peak period of synaptogenesis during the third postnatal week in the rat CPN. Thus, the postnatal spatiotemporal expression pattern of MOR appears to match the functional maturation of corticostriatal glutamate transmission.

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