Potentiation of the excitatory action of NMDA in ventrolateral periaqueductal gray by the mu-opioid receptor agonist, DAMGO

L-M Kow, K G Commons, S Ogawa, D W Pfaff
Brain Research 2002 May 10, 935 (1): 87-102
Several lines of evidence have suggested that mu-opioids, generally regarded as inhibitory, also have effects that stimulate neural activity. To look for possible excitatory opioid action in the rat periaqueductal gray (PAG), we first re-examined data from a previous study and found that met-enkephalin could evoke a delayed, sluggish excitation, suggestive of modulation by the opioid on the action of certain excitants. This observation, coupled with other studies that show mu-opioids can modulate NMDA receptor activation, prompted us to perform extracellular recording of the responses of single ventrolateral PAG (vlPAG) neurons in brain slices to DAMGO, a mu-opioid, and to NMDA. When applied alone, DAMGO at nM concentrations, like met-enkephalin, often evoked the delayed excitation and occasionally an inhibition. When applied after a brief exposure to NMDA, DAMGO at doses as low as 0.1 nM potentiated the excitation produced by a subsequent pulse of NMDA. This occurred, depending on cell type, in 23-100% of vlPAG neurons. The potentiating action of DAMGO was blocked by naloxone, suggesting it was mediated by mu-opioid receptors. Characterization of these mu-opioid actions revealed that the potentiation and the delayed excitation, unlike the inhibition, was not blocked by another opioid antagonist, nalmefene, nor by an inhibitor of the G protein of the G(i) class, N-ethylmaleimide. Moreover, the potentiating action was distinct from the inhibition in that it was: (a) enhanced by repeated opioid applications, (b) exhibited low effective doses, (c) had a long time course (minutes to develop and last tens of minutes) and (d) was present in distinct though overlapping cell populations. These data reveal an unconventional action of opioids in PAG neurons, that is, a potentiation of excitation produced by NMDA. This effect appeared mechanistically distinct from opioid inhibition or disinhibition and may be related to established examples of direct opioid excitation. These observations may help understanding behaviorally important mechanisms linked to acute and chronic opioid functions in the vlPAG.

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