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Papers of the Week

Papers: 25 Feb 2023 - 3 Mar 2023

Basic Science

Animal Studies, Molecular/Cellular, Pharmacology/Drug Development, Sex Differences

2023 Feb 14



Chronic morphine induces adaptations in opioid receptor signaling in a thalamo-cortico-striatal circuit that are projection-dependent, sex-specific and regulated by mu opioid receptor phosphorylation.


Jaeckel ER, Arias-Hervert ER, Perez-Medina AL, Herrera YN, Schulz S, Birdsong WT


Chronic opioid exposure induces tolerance to the pain-relieving effects of opioids but sensitization to some other effects. While the occurrence of these adaptations is well-understood, the underlying cellular mechanisms are less clear. This study aimed to determine how chronic treatment with morphine, a prototypical opioid agonist, induced adaptations to subsequent morphine signaling in different subcellular contexts. Opioids acutely inhibit glutamatergic transmission from medial thalamic (MThal) inputs to the dorsomedial striatum (DMS) and anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) via activity at μ-opioid receptors (MORs). MORs are present in somatic and presynaptic compartments of MThal neurons terminating in both the DMS and ACC. We investigated the effects of chronic morphine treatment on subsequent morphine signaling at MThal-DMS synapses, MThal-ACC synapses, and MThal cell bodies in male and female mice. Surprisingly, chronic morphine treatment increased subsequent morphine inhibition of MThal-DMS synaptic transmission (morphine facilitation), but decreased subsequent morphine inhibition of transmission at MThal-ACC synapses (morphine tolerance) in a sex-specific manner; these adaptations were present in male but not female mice. Additionally, these adaptations were not observed in knockin mice expressing phosphorylation-deficient MORs, suggesting a role of MOR phosphorylation in mediating both facilitation and tolerance to morphine within this circuit. The results of this study suggest that the effects of chronic morphine exposure are not ubiquitous; rather adaptations in MOR function may be determined by multiple factors such as subcellular receptor distribution, influence of local circuitry and sex.