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Neuroscience. 2005;130(2):359-67.

Increased gabaergic input to ventral tegmental area dopaminergic neurons associated with decreased cocaine reinforcement in mu-opioid receptor knockout mice.

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  • 1Rudolf Magnus Institute of Neuroscience, Department of Pharmacology and Anatomy, University Medical Centre Utrecht, Stratenum, Universiteitsweg 100, 3584 CG Utrecht, The Netherlands.


There is general agreement that dopaminergic neurons projecting from the ventral tegmental area (VTA) to the nucleus accumbens and prefrontal cortex play a key role in drug reinforcement. The activity of these neurons is strongly modulated by the inhibitory and excitatory input they receive. Activation of mu-opioid receptors, located on GABAergic neurons in the VTA, causes hyperpolarization of these GABAergic neurons, thereby causing a disinhibition of VTA dopaminergic neurons. This effect of mu-opioid receptors upon GABA neurotransmission is a likely mechanism for mu-opioid receptor modulation of drug reinforcement. We studied mu-opioid receptor signaling in relation to cocaine reinforcement in wild-type and mu-opioid receptor knockout mice using a cocaine self-administration paradigm and in vitro electrophysiology. Cocaine self-administration was reduced in mu-opioid receptor knockout mice, suggesting a critical role of mu-opioid receptors in cocaine reinforcement. The frequency of spontaneous inhibitory post-synaptic currents onto dopaminergic neurons in the ventral tegmental area was increased in mu-opioid receptor knockout mice compared with wild-type controls, while the frequency of spontaneous excitatory post-synaptic currents was unaltered. The reduced cocaine self-administration and increased GABAergic input to VTA dopaminergic neurons in mu-opioid receptor knockout mice supports the notion that suppression of GABAergic input onto dopaminergic neurons in the VTA contributes to mu-opioid receptor modulation of cocaine reinforcement.

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