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Papers of the Week

Papers: 6 May 2023 - 12 May 2023

Basic Science

Animal Studies, Molecular/Cellular, Neurobiology, Pharmacology/Drug Development


2023 May 05

J Pain


Opioids induce bidirectional synaptic plasticity in a brainstem pain centre in the rat.


Mussetto V, Teuchmann HL, Heinke B, Trofimova L, Sandkühler J, Drdla-Schutting R, Hogri R


Opioids are powerful analgesics commonly used in pain management. However, opioids can induce complex neuroadaptations, including synaptic plasticity, that ultimately drive severe side effects, such as pain hypersensitivity and strong aversion during prolonged administration or upon drug withdrawal, even following a single, brief administration. The lateral parabrachial nucleus (LPBN) in the brainstem plays a key role in pain and emotional processing; yet, the effects of opioids on synaptic plasticity in this area remain unexplored. Using patch-clamp recordings in acute brainstem slices from male and female Sprague-Dawley rats, we demonstrate a concentration-dependent, bimodal effect of opioids on excitatory synaptic transmission in the LPBN. While a lower concentration of DAMGO (0.5 µM) induced a long-term depression of synaptic strength (low-DAMGO LTD), abrupt termination of a higher concentration (10 µM) induced a long-term potentiation (high-DAMGO LTP) in a subpopulation of cells. LTD involved a metabotropic glutamate receptor (mGluR)-dependent mechanism; in contrast, LTP required astrocytes and N-methyl-D-aspartate receptor (NMDAR) activation. Selective optogenetic activation of spinal and periaqueductal grey matter (PAG) inputs to the LPBN revealed that, while LTD was expressed at all parabrachial synapses tested, LTP was restricted to spino-parabrachial synapses. Thus, we uncovered previously unknown forms of opioid-induced long-term plasticity in the parabrachial nucleus that potentially modulate some adverse effects of opioids. PERSPECTIVE: We found a previously unrecognized site of opioid-induced plasticity in the lateral parabrachial nucleus, a key region for pain and emotional processing. Unravelling opioid-induced adaptations in parabrachial function might facilitate the identification of new therapeutic measures for addressing adverse effects of opioid discontinuation such as hyperalgesia and aversion.