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Neuropsychopharmacology. 2012 Dec;37(13):2780-8. doi: 10.1038/npp.2012.144. Epub 2012 Aug 8.

Upregulation of nerve growth factor in central amygdala increases sensitivity to opioid reward.

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Department of Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine, The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, Houston, TX, USA.


The rewarding properties of opioids are essential driving force for compulsive drug-seeking and drug-taking behaviors in the development of opioid-mediated drug addiction. Prior drug use enhances sensitivity to the rewarding effects of subsequently used drugs, increasing vulnerability to relapse. The molecular mechanisms underlying this reward sensitization are still unclear. We report here that morphine that induced reward sensitization, as demonstrated by reinstatement of the behavior of conditioned place preference (CPP) with sub-threshold priming morphine, epigenetically upregulated the output activity of Ngf encoding the nerve growth factor (NGF) by increasing histone H4 acetylation in the rat central nucleus of the amygdala (CeA). NGF locally infused into the CeA mimicked the morphine effect in inducing new functional delta-opioid receptor (DOR) that was required for the reward sensitization, and morphine-induced reward sensitization was inhibited by blocking NGF receptor signaling in the CeA. Histone deacetylase inhibitors that increased the acetylation level at the Ngf promoter and NGF expression in the CeA also induced reward sensitization in a CeA NGF signaling- and DOR-dependent manner. Furthermore, CeA-applied NGF substituted prior morphine to induce reward sensitization in naive rats and also substituted priming morphine to reinstate the CPP induced by prior morphine. Thus, epigenetic upregulation of NGF activity in the CeA may promote the behavior of opioid reward and increase the sensitivity to the rewarding effect of subsequent opioids, a potentially important mechanism in drug addiction.

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