A novel anxiogenic role for the delta opioid receptor expressed in GABAergic forebrain neurons

Biol Psychiatry. 2015 Feb 15;77(4):404-15. doi: 10.1016/j.biopsych.2014.07.033. Epub 2014 Aug 27.


Background: The delta opioid receptor (DOR) is broadly expressed throughout the nervous system; it regulates chronic pain, emotional responses, motivation, and memory. Neural circuits underlying DOR activities have been poorly explored by genetic approaches. We used conditional mouse mutagenesis to elucidate receptor function in GABAergic neurons of the forebrain.

Methods: We characterized DOR distribution in the brain of Dlx5/6-CreXOprd1(fl/fl) (Dlx-DOR) mice and tested main central DOR functions through behavioral testing.

Results: The DOR proteins were strongly deleted in olfactory bulb and striatum and remained intact in cortex and basolateral amygdala. Olfactory perception, circadian activity, and despair-like behaviors were unchanged. In contrast, locomotor stimulant effects of SNC80 (DOR agonist) and SKF81297 (D1 agonist) were abolished and increased, respectively. The Dlx-DOR mice showed lower levels of anxiety in the elevated plus maze, opposing the known high anxiety in constitutive DOR knockout animals. Also, Dlx-DOR mice reached the food more rapidly in a novelty suppressed feeding task, despite their lower motivation for food reward observed in an operant paradigm. Finally, c-fos protein staining after novelty suppressed feeding was strongly reduced in amygdala, concordant with the low anxiety phenotype of Dlx-DOR mice.

Conclusions: We demonstrate that DORs expressed in the forebrain mediate the described locomotor effect of SNC80 and inhibit D1-stimulated hyperactivity. Our data also reveal an unanticipated anxiogenic role for this particular DOR subpopulation, with a potential novel adaptive role. In emotional responses, DORs exert dual anxiolytic and anxiogenic roles, both of which may have implications in the area of anxiety disorders.

Keywords: Conditional gene knockout; Delta opioid receptor; Emotion; GABAergic forebrain neurons; Locomotion; Motivation.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anxiety / physiopathology*
  • Behavior, Animal / physiology
  • Benzamides / pharmacology
  • Benzazepines / pharmacology
  • Brain / metabolism
  • Corpus Striatum / metabolism
  • Dopamine Agonists / pharmacology
  • Female
  • GABAergic Neurons / metabolism*
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Knockout
  • Motivation / physiology
  • Motor Activity / drug effects
  • Olfactory Bulb / metabolism
  • Piperazines / pharmacology
  • Prosencephalon / metabolism*
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-fos / metabolism
  • RNA, Messenger / metabolism
  • Receptors, Dopamine D1 / agonists
  • Receptors, Opioid, delta / agonists
  • Receptors, Opioid, delta / analysis
  • Receptors, Opioid, delta / genetics
  • Receptors, Opioid, delta / metabolism*


  • Benzamides
  • Benzazepines
  • Dopamine Agonists
  • Piperazines
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-fos
  • RNA, Messenger
  • Receptors, Dopamine D1
  • Receptors, Opioid, delta
  • 4-(alpha-(4-allyl-2,5-dimethyl-1-piperazinyl)-3-methoxybenzyl)-N,N-diethylbenzamide
  • SK&F 81297