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Neuropsychopharmacology. 2009 Jul;34(8):1946-57. doi: 10.1038/npp.2009.28. Epub 2009 Mar 11.

Role of mu- and delta-opioid receptors in the nucleus accumbens in cocaine-seeking behavior.

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  • 1Department of Psychiatry and the Neuroscience Graduate Program, The Seay Center for Basic and Applied Research in Psychiatric Illness, UT Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas, Texas, USA.


Earlier studies suggest that opioid receptors in the ventral tegmental area, but not the nucleus accumbens (NAc), play a role in relapse to drug-seeking behavior. However, environmental stimuli that elicit relapse also release the endogenous opioid beta-endorphin in the NAc. Using a within-session extinction/reinstatement paradigm in rats that self-administer cocaine, we found that NAc infusions of the mu-opioid receptor (MOR) agonist DAMGO moderately reinstated responding on the cocaine-paired lever at low doses (1.0-3.0 ng/side), whereas the delta-opioid receptor (DOR) agonist DPDPE induced greater responding at higher doses (300-3000 ng/side) that also enhanced inactive lever responding. Using doses of either agonist that induced responding on only the cocaine-paired lever, we found that DAMGO-induced responding was blocked selectively by pretreatment with the MOR antagonist, CTAP, whereas DPDPE-induced responding was selectively blocked by the DOR antagonist, naltrindole. Cocaine-primed reinstatement was blocked by intra-NAc CTAP but not naltrindole, indicating a role for endogenous MOR-acting peptides in cocaine-induced reinstatement of cocaine-seeking behavior. In this regard, intra-NAc infusions of beta-endorphin (100-1000 ng/side) induced marked cocaine-seeking behavior, an effect blocked by intra-NAc pretreatment with the MOR but not DOR antagonist. Conversely, cocaine seeking elicited by the enkephalinase inhibitor thiorphan (1-10 microg/side) was blocked by naltrindole but not CTAP. MOR stimulation in more dorsal caudate-putamen sites was ineffective, whereas DPDPE infusions induced cocaine seeking. Together, these findings establish distinct roles for MOR and DOR in cocaine relapse and suggest that NAc MOR could be an important therapeutic target to neutralize the effects of endogenous beta-endorphin release on cocaine relapse.

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