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Addict Biol. 2016 Nov;21(6):1086-1096. doi: 10.1111/adb.12273. Epub 2015 Jun 19.

Acquisition of morphine conditioned place preference increases the dendritic complexity of nucleus accumbens core neurons.

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Research Service VA Boston Healthcare System, Boston, MA, USA.
Department of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics, Boston University School of Medicine, Boston, MA, USA.
Department of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics, Boston University School of Medicine, Boston, MA, USA.
Mental Health Service, VA Boston Healthcare System, Boston, MA, USA.


Contexts associated with opioid reward trigger craving and relapse in opioid addiction. Effects of reward-context associative learning on nucleus accumbens (NAc) dendritic morphology were studied using morphine conditioned place preference (CPP). Morphine-conditioned mice received saline and morphine 10 mg/kg subcutaneous (s.c.) on alternate days. Saline-conditioned mice received saline s.c. each day. Morphine-conditioned and saline-conditioned groups received injections immediately before each of eight daily conditioning sessions. Morphine homecage controls had no CPP training, but received saline and morphine in the homecage concomitantly with the morphine-conditioned group. Morphine conditioning produced greater place preference than saline conditioning. Mice were sacrificed 1 day after CPP expression. Dendritic changes were studied using Golgi-Cox staining and digital tracing of NAc core and shell neurons. In the NAc core, morphine homecage administration increased spine density, while morphine conditioning increased dendritic complexity, as defined by increased dendritic count, length and intersections. Place preference positively correlated with dendritic length and intersections in the NAc core. The core may mediate reward consolidation and determine how context-related signals from the shell lead to motor behavior. The combination of drug and conditioning in the morphine-conditioned group produced unique morphological effects different from the effects of drug or conditioning procedures by themselves. An additional study found no differences in neuron morphology between saline-conditioned mice, trained as described earlier, and mice that were not conditioned, but received saline in the homecage. The unique effect of morphine reward learning on NAc core dendrites reflects a brain substrate that could be targeted for therapeutic intervention in addiction.


Conditioned place preference; dendrite; morphine; nucleus accumbens; plasticity; spine

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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