Enhanced opioid efficacy in opioid dependence is caused by an altered signal transduction pathway

Susan L. Ingram, Christopher W. Vaughan, Elena E. Bagley, Mark Connor, MacDonald J. Christie*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

145 Citations (Scopus)


Chronic morphine administration induces adaptations in neurons resulting in opioid tolerance and dependence. Functional studies have implicated a role for the periaqueductal gray area (PAG) in the expression of many signs of opioid withdrawal, but the cellular mechanisms are not fully understood. This study describes an increased efficacy, rather than tolerance, of opioid agonists at μ-receptors on GABAergic (but not glutamatergic) nerve terminals in PAG after chronic morphine treatment. Opioid withdrawal enhanced the amplitudes of electrically evoked inhibitory synaptic currents mediated by GABA(A) receptors and increased the frequency of spontaneous miniature GABAergic synaptic currents. These effects were not blocked by 4- aminopyridine or dendrotoxin, although both Kv channel blockers abolish acute opioid presynaptic inhibition of GABA release in PAG. Instead, the withdrawal-induced increases were blocked by protein kinase A inhibitors and occluded by metabolically stable cAMP analogs, which do not prevent acute opioid actions. These findings indicate that opioid dependence induces efficacious coupling of μ-receptors to presynaptic inhibition in GABAergic nerve terminals via adenylyl cyclase- and protein kinase A-dependent processes in PAG. The potential role of these adaptations in expression of withdrawal behavior was supported by inhibition of enhanced GABAergic synaptic transmission by the α2 adrenoceptor agonist clonidine. These findings provide a cellular mechanism that is consistent with other studies demonstrating attenuated opioid withdrawal behavior after injections of protein kinase A inhibitors into PAG and suggest a general mechanism whereby opioid withdrawal may enhance synaptic neurotransmission.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)10269-10276
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Neuroscience
Issue number24
Publication statusPublished - 15 Dec 1998
Externally publishedYes


  • Adenylyl cyclase
  • Opioid dependence
  • Opioid efficacy
  • Opioid withdrawal
  • Periaqueductal gray
  • Protein kinase A
  • Sensitization
  • Synaptic plasticity


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