Differential effects of opioids on sacrocaudal afferent pathways and central pattern generators in the neonatal rat spinal cord

J Neurophysiol. 2007 Apr;97(4):2875-86. doi: 10.1152/jn.01313.2006. Epub 2007 Feb 7.


The effects of opioids on sacrocaudal afferent (SCA) pathways and the pattern-generating circuitry of the thoracolumbar and sacrocaudal segments of the spinal cord were studied in isolated spinal cord and brain stem-spinal cord preparations of the neonatal rat. The locomotor and tail moving rhythm produced by activation of nociceptive and nonnociceptive sacrocaudal afferents was completely blocked by specific application of the mu-opioid receptor agonist [d-Ala(2), N-Me-Phe(4), Gly(5)-ol]-enkephalin acetate salt (DAMGO) to the sacrocaudal but not the thoracolumbar segments of the spinal cord. The rhythmic activity could be restored after addition of the opioid receptor antagonist naloxone to the experimental chamber. The opioid block of the SCA-induced rhythm is not due to impaired rhythmogenic capacity of the spinal cord because a robust rhythmic activity could be initiated in the thoracolumbar and sacrocaudal segments in the presence of DAMGO, either by stimulation of the ventromedial medulla or by bath application of N-methyl-d-aspartate/serotonin. We suggest that the opioid block of the SCA-induced rhythm involves suppression of synaptic transmission through sacrocaudal interneurons interposed between SCA and the pattern-generating circuitry. The expression of mu opioid receptors in several groups of dorsal, intermediate and ventral horn interneurons in the sacrocaudal segments of the cord, documented in this study, provides an anatomical basis for this suggestion.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Intramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Afferent Pathways / drug effects*
  • Analgesics, Opioid / pharmacology*
  • Animals
  • Animals, Newborn / physiology*
  • Brain Stem / drug effects
  • Brain Stem / physiology*
  • Data Interpretation, Statistical
  • Electric Stimulation
  • Electrophysiology
  • Enkephalin, Ala(2)-MePhe(4)-Gly(5)- / pharmacology
  • Excitatory Postsynaptic Potentials / drug effects
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Instinct*
  • Locomotion / physiology
  • Microscopy, Confocal
  • Movement / physiology
  • Naloxone / pharmacology
  • Narcotic Antagonists / pharmacology
  • Rats
  • Receptors, Opioid, mu / agonists
  • Receptors, Opioid, mu / genetics
  • Receptors, Opioid, mu / physiology
  • Spinal Cord / drug effects
  • Spinal Cord / physiology*
  • Tail / innervation
  • Tail / physiology


  • Analgesics, Opioid
  • Narcotic Antagonists
  • Oprm1 protein, rat
  • Receptors, Opioid, mu
  • Enkephalin, Ala(2)-MePhe(4)-Gly(5)-
  • Naloxone