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J Pharmacol Exp Ther. 2007 Dec;323(3):838-45. Epub 2007 Sep 6.

Anxiolytic-like effects of kappa-opioid receptor antagonists in models of unlearned and learned fear in rats.

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  • 1Department of Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School, McLean Hospital, 115 Mill Street, Belmont, MA 02478, USA.


Endogenous opioid systems regulate neurobiological responses to threatening stimuli. Stimulation of kappa-opioid receptors (KORs) produces analgesia but induces prodepressive-like effects in a variety of animal models. In contrast, KOR antagonists have antidepressant-like effects. KORs and their endogenous ligand dynorphin are expressed throughout brain areas involved in fear and anxiety, including the extended amygdala. Here, we examined whether KOR antagonists would affect unlearned fear (anxiety) in the elevated plus maze (EPM) and open field (OF) paradigms and learned fear in the fear-potentiated startle (FPS) paradigm. These studies were designed to accommodate the slow onset (approximately 24 h) and extended time course (>3 weeks) of the prototypical KOR antagonists nor-binaltorphimine hydrochloride (norBNI) and JDTic [(3R)-7-hydroxy-N-[(1S)-1-[[(3R, 4R)-4-(3-hydroxyphenyl)-3,4-dimethyl-1-piperidinyl]methyl]-2-methylpropyl]-1,2,3,4-tetrahydro-3-isoquinoline-carboxamide hydrochloride]. Rats received an i.p. injection of norBNI (3.0-30 mg/kg) or JDTic (1.0-10 mg/kg) 48 h before EPM testing. One day later, they were tested in the OF, and 5 and 7 days later, they were trained and tested in the FPS paradigm. Both KOR antagonists dose-dependently increased open arm exploration in the EPM without affecting OF behavior. They also decreased conditioned fear in the FPS paradigm. The anxiolytic-like effects of KOR antagonists were qualitatively similar to those of the benzodiazepine chlordiazepoxide in the EPM. The selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor fluoxetine had no effect in the EPM and anxiogenic-like effects in the OF. Our results indicate that KOR antagonists produce a unique combination of antidepressant- and anxiolytic-like effects and suggest that this class of drugs may be particularly effective for the treatment of comorbid depressive and anxiety disorders.

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