Visualization of opiate receptor upregulation by light microscopy autoradiography

A. Tempel, E. L. Gardner, R. S. Zukin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

87 Scopus citations


Light microscopy autoradiography has been used to visualize neuroanatomical patterns of brain opiate receptor upregulation in response to chronic naltrexone administration. Slide-mounted brain sections of frozen rat brain were labeled in vitro with dihydro[3H]morphine, a relatively selective μ opioid ligand. The greatest relative increases in opiate receptor density were observed in the nucleus accumbens, the amygdala, striatal patches, nuclei of the thalamus and hypothalamus, layers I and III of neocortex, substantia nigra compacta, midbrain periaqueductal gray regions, and the parabrachial nuclei of the brainstem. The substantia nigra reticulata, surrounding areas of striatal patches, and the locus ceruleus, were not affected by this drug treatment. These findings demonstrate that chronically administered naltrexone differentially regulates opiate receptors throughout the brain. In particular, three brain systems appear to be target areas of receptor upregulation: (i) the dopamine A9/A10 systems, (ii) the limbic system, and (iii) structures that receive input from afferent sensory pathways. Two possible mechanisms to account for this finding are (i) that the drug does not have uniform effects throughout the brain or (ii) that the receptors themselves may be associated with different functional systems. Receptor density changes are paralleled by increases in methionine-enkephalin content in the striatum, nucleus accumbens, periaqueducal gray, and hypothalamic areas of chronic naltrexone-treated rats relative to control rats. Thus opiate receptors and opioid peptides appear to be subject to regulatory mechanisms similar to those that modulate other neurotransmitters and their receptors. These results document in a visual manner brain patterns of opiate receptor upregulation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3893-3897
Number of pages5
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number12 I
StatePublished - 1984

ASJC Scopus subject areas

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