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Neuroscience. 2009 Sep 29;163(1):143-54. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroscience.2009.06.029. Epub 2009 Jun 17.

Subcellular plasticity of the corticotropin-releasing factor receptor in dendrites of the mouse bed nucleus of the stria terminalis following chronic opiate exposure.

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Division of Neurobiology, Department of Neurology and Neuroscience, Weill Medical College of Cornell University, 407 East 61st Street, New York, NY 10065, USA.


Chronic opiate administration alters the expression levels of the stress-responsive peptide, corticotropin-releasing factor (CRF), in the bed nucleus of the stria terminalis (BNST). This brain region contains CRF receptors that drive drug-seeking behavior exacerbated by stress. We used electron microscopy to quantitatively compare immunolabeling of the corticotropin-releasing factor receptor (CRFr) and CRF in the anterolateral bed nucleus of the stria terminalis (BSTal) of mice injected with saline or morphine in escalating doses for 14 days. We also compared the results with those in non-injected control mice. The tissue was processed for CRFr immunogold and CRF immunoperoxidase labeling. The non-injected controls had a significantly lower plasmalemmal density of CRFr immunogold particles in dendrites compared with mice receiving saline, but not those receiving morphine, injections. Compared with saline, however, mice receiving chronic morphine showed a significantly lower plasmalemmal, and greater cytoplasmic, density of CRFr immunogold in dendrites. Within the cytoplasmic compartment of somata and dendrites of the BSTal, the proportion of CRFr gold particles associated with mitochondria was three times as great in mice receiving morphine compared with saline. This subcellular distribution is consistent with morphine,- and CRFr-associated modulation of intracellular calcium release or oxidative stress. The between-group changes occurred without effect on the total number of dendritic CRFr immunogold particles, suggesting that chronic morphine enhances internalization or decreases delivery of the CRFr to the plasma membrane, a trafficking effect that is also affected by the stress of daily injections. In contrast, saline and morphine treatment groups showed no significant differences in the total number of CRF-immunoreactive axon terminals, or the frequency with which these terminals contacted CRFr-containing dendrites. This suggests that morphine does not influence axonal availability of CRF in the BSTal. The results have important implications for drug-associated adaptations in brain stress systems that may contribute to the motivation to continue drug use during dependence.

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