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J Clin Invest. 2001 Feb;107(4):457-66.

Nociceptin/orphanin FQ exacerbates excitotoxic white-matter lesions in the murine neonatal brain.

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Institut National de la Santé et de la Recherche Médicale (INSERM) E9935, Hôpital Robert-Debré, Paris, France.


Intracerebral administration of the excitotoxin ibotenate to newborn mice induces white-matter lesions, mimicking brain lesions that occur in human preterm infants. Nociceptin (NC), also called orphanin FQ, is the endogenous ligand of the opioid receptor-like 1 (ORL1) receptor and does not bind classical high-affinity opioid receptors. In the present study, administration of NC exacerbated ibotenate-induced white-matter lesions while coadministration of ibotenate with either of two NC antagonists reduced excitotoxic white-matter lesions by up to 64%. Neither ibotenate plus endomorphin I (a selective mu receptor agonist), nor ibotenate plus naloxone (a classical opioid receptor antagonist) modulated the excitotoxic lesion. Pretreatment with antisense oligonucleotides targeting the NC precursor peptide mRNA significantly reduced ibotenate-induced white-matter damage. Finally, high doses of fentanyl, which stimulates both classical mu-opioid receptors and ORL1, exacerbated excitotoxic white-matter lesion. This toxic effect was blocked by inhibiting ORL1 but not classical opioid receptors. Together, these findings show that endogenous or exogenous stimulation of the ORL1 receptor can be neurotoxic and that blocking NC signaling protects the white matter against excitotoxic challenge. These data point to potential new avenues for neuroprotection in human preterm infants at high risk of brain lesions.

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