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J Neurosci. 2013 Nov 20;33(47):18540-52. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.3323-12.2013.

Mu-opioid stimulation in rat prefrontal cortex engages hypothalamic orexin/hypocretin-containing neurons, and reveals dissociable roles of nucleus accumbens and hypothalamus in cortically driven feeding.

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Neuroscience Training Program and Department of Psychiatry, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, Wisconsin 53719.


Mu-opioid receptor (μOR) stimulation within ventral medial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC) induces feeding and hyperactivity, resulting possibly from recruitment of glutamate signaling in multiple vmPFC projection targets. We tested this hypothesis by analyzing Fos expression in vmPFC terminal fields after intra-vmPFC μOR stimulation, and by examining of the impact of glutamate receptor blockade in two feeding-related targets of vmPFC, the lateral-perifornical hypothalamic area (LH-PeF) and nucleus accumbens shell (Acb shell), upon behavioral effects elicited by intra-vmPFC μOR stimulation in rats. Intra-vmPFC infusion of the μOR agonist, DAMGO, provoked Fos expression in the dorsomedial sector of tuberal hypothalamus (including the perifornical area) and increased the percentage of Fos-expressing hypocretin/orexin-immunoreactive neurons in these zones. NMDA receptor blockade in the LH-PeF nearly eliminated intra-vmPFC DAMGO-induced food intake without altering DAMGO-induced hyperactivity. In contrast, blocking AMPA-type glutamate receptors within the Acb shell (the feeding-relevant subtype in this structure) antagonized intra-vmPFC DAMGO-induced hyperlocomotion but enhanced food intake. Intra-vmPFC DAMGO also elevated the breakpoint for sucrose-reinforced progressive-ratio responding; this effect was significantly enhanced by concomitant AMPA blockade in the Acb shell. Conversely, intra-Acb shell AMPA stimulation reduced breakpoint and increased nonspecific responding on the inactive lever. These data indicate intra-vmPFC μOR signaling jointly modulates appetitive motivation and generalized motoric activation through functionally dissociable vmPFC projection targets. These findings may shed light on the circuitry underlying disorganized appetitive responses in psychopathology; e.g., binge eating and opiate or alcohol abuse, disorders in which μORs and aberrant cortical activation have been implicated.

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