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J Neurosci. 2005 May 18;25(20):4996-5003.

Regulation of alpha-synuclein expression in limbic and motor brain regions of morphine-treated mice.

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  • 1Institute of Pharmacology, Polish Academy of Sciences, 31-343 Krak√≥w, Poland.


Chronic exposure to opiates produces dependence and addiction, which may result from neuroadaptations in the dopaminergic reward pathway and its target brain regions. The neuronal protein alpha-synuclein has been implicated in neuronal plasticity and proposed to serve as a negative regulator of dopamine neurotransmission. Thus, alpha-synuclein could mediate some effects of opiates in the brain. The present study investigated the influence of acute and chronic morphine administration on alpha-synuclein mRNA and protein expression in the brains of mice. Downregulation of alpha-synuclein mRNA was observed in the basolateral amygdala, dorsal striatum, nucleus accumbens, and ventral tegmental area of mice withdrawn from chronic morphine treatment. The changes were the most pronounced after longer periods of withdrawal (48 h). In contrast, levels of alpha-synuclein protein, as assessed by Western blotting, were significantly increased in the amygdala and striatum/accumbens (but not in the mesencephalon) of morphine-withdrawn mice. In both brain regions, levels of alpha-synuclein were elevated for as long as 2 weeks after treatment cessation. Because alpha-synuclein is a presynaptic protein, the detected opposite changes in its mRNA and protein levels are likely to take place in different populations of projection neurons whose somata are in different brain areas. Axonal localization of alpha-synuclein was confirmed by immunofluorescent labeling. An attempt to identify postsynaptic neurons innervated by alpha-synuclein-containing axon terminals revealed their selective apposition to calbindin D28K-negative projection neurons in the basolateral amygdala. The observed changes in alpha-synuclein levels are discussed in connection with their putative role in mediating suppression of dopaminergic neurotransmission during opiate withdrawal.

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