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Exp Neurol. 2008 Sep;213(1):57-70. doi: 10.1016/j.expneurol.2008.04.045. Epub 2008 May 20.

Conditional deletion of the NMDA-NR1 receptor subunit gene in the central nucleus of the amygdala inhibits naloxone-induced conditioned place aversion in morphine-dependent mice.

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Department of Neurology and Neuroscience, New York, NY 10021, USA.


Preclinical behavioral pharmacological and neuropharmacological evidence indicates that the NMDA receptor plays an important role in opioid dependence, however, the neural substrates subserving these actions are poorly understood. The central nucleus of the amygdala (CeA) is a critical coordinator of autonomic, behavioral, and emotional systems impacted by opioids, however there is no evidence that the essential NMDA-NR1 (NR1) subunit gene in the amygdala plays a role in opioid dependence. To determine the role of the NR1 subunit gene in the amygdala with respect to physical and psychological opioid withdrawal, a spatial-temporal deletion of this gene was produced by microinjecting a recombinant adeno-associated virus (rAAV) expressing the GFP reporter and Cre recombinase (rAAV-GFP-Cre) into the CeA of adult "floxed" NR1 mice (fNR1). Amygdala microinjection of rAAV-GFP-Cre produced a decrease in NR1 gene expression and protein immunolabeling in postsynaptic sites of neurons without signs of compromised ultrastructural neuronal morphology. Amygdala NR1 gene deletion also did not affect locomotor, somatosensory, or sensory-motor behaviors. In addition, bilateral local NR1 gene deletion did not impact somatic or visceral withdrawal symptoms precipitated by naloxone in morphine-dependent mice. However, there was a significant deficit in the expression of an opioid withdrawal-induced conditioned place aversion in mice with amygdala NR1 deletion. These results indicate that functional amygdala NMDA receptors are involved in aversive psychological processes associated with opioid withdrawal. More generally, spatial-temporal deletion of the NR1 subunit by Cre-loxP technology is an effective means to elucidate the neurogenetic substrates of complex phenotypes associated with drug abuse.

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