Altered synaptic transmission and plasticity in brain areas involved in reward and learning are thought to underlie the long-lasting effects of addictive drugs. In support of this idea, opiates reduce neurogenesis [A.J. Eisch et al. (2000) Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, 97, 7579-7584] and enhance long-term potentiation in adult rodent hippocampus [J.M. Harrison et al. (2002) Journal of Neurophysiology, 87, 2464-2470], a key structure of learning and memory processes. Here we studied how repeated morphine treatment and withdrawal affect cell proliferation and neuronal phenotypes in the dentate gyrus-CA3 region of the adult rat hippocampus. Our data showed a strong reduction of cellular proliferation in morphine-dependent animals (54% of control) that was followed by a rebound increase after 1 week withdrawal and a return to normal after 2 weeks withdrawal. Morphine dependence was also associated with a drastic reduction in the expression levels of the polysialylated form of neural cell adhesion molecule (68% of control), an adhesion molecule expressed by newly generated neurons and involved in cell migration and structural plasticity. Polysialylated neural cell adhesion molecule levels quickly returned to normal following withdrawal. In morphine-dependent rats, we found a significant increase of glutamate decarboxylase-67 mRNA transcription (170% of control) in dentate gyrus granular cells which was followed by a marked rebound decrease after 1 week withdrawal and a return to normal after 4 weeks withdrawal. Together, the results show, for the first time, that, in addition to reducing cell proliferation and neurogenesis, chronic exposure to morphine dramatically alters neuronal phenotypes in the dentate gyrus-CA3 region of the adult rat hippocampus.