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J Neurosci. 2011 Jan 5;31(1):281-8. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.4654-10.2011.

Differential expression and sensitivity of presynaptic and postsynaptic opioid receptors regulating hypothalamic proopiomelanocortin neurons.

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Department of Biomedical Sciences, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, Colorado 80523, USA.


Hypothalamic proopiomelanocortin (POMC) neurons release the endogenous opioid beta-endorphin and POMC neuron activity is inhibited by opioids, leading to the proposal that beta-endorphin acts to provide feedback inhibition. However, both intrinsic properties and synaptic inputs contribute to the regulation of POMC neurons such that attributing an autoregulatory role to opioids must include consideration of opioid receptor localization and sensitivity at both presynaptic and postsynaptic sites. In the present study, whole-cell recordings were made in POMC cells in mouse brain slices and the presynaptic and postsynaptic regulation of POMC neurons was examined using selective agonists for mu, kappa, and delta opioid receptors. Activation of mu, but not kappa or delta, receptors induced a direct postsynaptic outward current. Agonists for each of the receptors inhibited the frequency of spontaneous IPSCs. Mu and kappa, but not delta, agonists reduced the amplitude of evoked IPSCs and appeared to colocalize in a significant portion of GABAergic terminals onto POMC neurons. The presynaptic inhibition caused by the mu agonist DAMGO had an EC(50) of 80 nM, whereas the EC(50) was 350 nM when measuring the postsynaptic outward current. This differential sensitivity adds an unexpected component of opioid-dependent feedback regulation, where low levels of opioid receptor activation would likely disinhibit POMC neuron activity and higher concentrations would result in an overall inhibition. The results may help explain why it has been difficult to clearly discern the role that opioids play in the regulation of food intake and other processes involving POMC neurons.

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