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Neuroscience. 2007 Jan 5;144(1):77-87. Epub 2006 Oct 19.

Knockout of the mu opioid receptor enhances the survival of adult-generated hippocampal granule cell neurons.

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Department of Psychiatry, University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, 5323 Harry Hines Boulevard, Dallas, TX 75390-9070, USA.


Recent evidence suggests that mu opioid receptors (MOR) are key regulators of hippocampal structure and function. For example, exogenous MOR agonists morphine and heroin negatively impact hippocampal function and decrease adult hippocampal neurogenesis. Here we explored the role of MOR in the birth and survival of hippocampal progenitor cells by examining adult neurogenesis in mice that lack MOR. Adult male mice lacking exon 1 of MOR were injected with the S phase marker bromodeoxyuridine (BrdU) and killed either 2 hours or 4 weeks later to evaluate proliferating and surviving BrdU-immunoreactive (IR) cells, respectively, in the adult hippocampal granule cell layer. Wild-type (WT), heterozygote, and homozygote mice did not differ in the number of BrdU-IR cells at a proliferation time point. However, 4 weeks after BrdU injection, heterozygote and homozygote mice had 57% and 54% more surviving BrdU-IR cells in the hippocampal granule cell layer as compared with WT mice. A decrease in apoptosis in the heterozygote and homozygote mice did not account for the difference in number of surviving BrdU-IR cells since there were no alterations in number of pyknotic, terminal deoxynucleotidyl transferase-mediated dUTP nick-end labeling (TUNEL)-positive, or activated caspase 3-IR cells compared with WT. In concordance with the increased numbers of granule cells maturing into neurons, heterozygote and homozygote mice had larger hippocampal granule cell layers and increased numbers of granule cells. These findings indicate that MOR may play a role in regulating progenitor cell survival and more generally encourage further exploration of how MOR activation can influence hippocampal structure and function.

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