An anatomical basis for opponent process mechanisms of opiate withdrawal

J Neurosci. 2011 May 18;31(20):7533-9. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.0172-11.2011.


Opponent process theory predicts that the first step in the induction of drug withdrawal is the activation of reward-related circuitry. Using the acoustic startle reflex as a model of anxiety-like behavior in rats, we show the emergence of a negative affective state during withdrawal after direct infusion of morphine into the ventral tegmental area (VTA), the origin of the mesolimbic dopamine system. Potentiation of startle during withdrawal from systemic morphine exposure requires a decrease in opiate receptor stimulation in the VTA and can be relieved by administration of the dopamine receptor agonist apomorphine. Together, our results suggest that the emergence of anxiety during withdrawal from acute opiate exposure begins with activation of VTA mesolimbic dopamine circuitry, providing a mechanism for the opponent process view of withdrawal.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Male
  • Motor Activity / physiology
  • Nerve Net / physiology
  • Opioid-Related Disorders / physiopathology*
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Sensory Gating / physiology*
  • Substance Withdrawal Syndrome / physiopathology*
  • Ventral Tegmental Area / physiology*