The role of nitric oxide in morphine dependence and withdrawal excitation of rat oxytocin neurons

Philip M Bull, Mike Ludwig, Gordon J Blackburn-Munro, Helena Delgado-Cohen, Colin H Brown, John A Russell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

Magnocellular oxytocin neurons develop morphine dependence after intracerebroventricular infusion for 5 days as revealed by their profound excitation following naloxone-induced withdrawal. Oxytocin neurons strongly express nitric oxide synthase (NOS) and nitric oxide (NO) inhibits their activity. This study investigated whether excitation of oxytocin neurons during morphine withdrawal involves reduced activity of NOS and NO. Neuron activity was measured in urethane-anaesthetized rats with blood sampling for oxytocin radioimmunoassay and extracellular single unit firing rate recording of supraoptic nucleus oxytocin neurons. To compare morphine-dependent and -naive rats oxytocin secretion was measured during stimulation by intravenous hypertonic saline infusion. Prior treatment with Nomega-nitro-l-arginine methyl ester, a NOS inhibitor, facilitated osmotically stimulated oxytocin secretion in both morphine-dependent and -naive rats. The facilitation was not different between these groups when corrected for the slower responses observed in morphine-dependent rats. Treatment of morphine-dependent rats with Nomega-nitro-l-arginine methyl ester also enhanced oxytocin secretion during naloxone-precipitated withdrawal. Oxytocin neurons excited by withdrawal were recorded during microdialysis application to the supraoptic nucleus of the NO donor sodium nitroprusside alone and in combination with the GABAA antagonist bicuculline. Sodium nitroprusside inhibited oxytocin neurons during naloxone-precipitated morphine withdrawal and, while bicuculline alone increased firing rate, it did not reduce the inhibition by sodium nitroprusside, in contrast with previous findings in naive rats. Together, these findings indicate that NO restraint of oxytocin secretion is not curtailed during morphine dependence and remains a potent inhibitor of withdrawal excitation despite reduced effectiveness on GABA innervation of the supraoptic nucleus. Hence there is no evidence that changes in NO regulation underlie excitation of oxytocin neurons during opiate withdrawal in morphine dependence.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2545-51
Number of pages7
JournalEuropean Journal of Neuroscience
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2003

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • Action Potentials
  • Animals
  • Electrophysiology
  • Female
  • GABA Antagonists
  • Morphine
  • Morphine Dependence
  • Naloxone
  • Narcotic Antagonists
  • Narcotics
  • Neurons
  • Nitric Oxide
  • Nitric Oxide Synthase
  • Oxytocin
  • Radioimmunoassay
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Saline Solution, Hypertonic
  • Substance Withdrawal Syndrome
  • Supraoptic Nucleus


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