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Reflections On: "A General Role for Adaptations in G-Proteins and the Cyclic AMP System in Mediating the Chronic Actions of Morphine and Cocaine on Neuronal Function"


Reflections On: "A General Role for Adaptations in G-Proteins and the Cyclic AMP System in Mediating the Chronic Actions of Morphine and Cocaine on Neuronal Function"

Eric J Nestler. Brain Res.


In 1991 we demonstrated that chronic morphine exposure increased levels of adenylyl cyclase and protein kinase A (PKA) in several regions of the rat central nervous system as inferred from measures of enzyme activity in crude extracts (Terwilliger et al., 1991). These findings led us to hypothesize that a concerted upregulation of the cAMP pathway is a general mechanism of opiate tolerance and dependence. Moreover, in the same study we showed similar induction of adenylyl cyclase and PKA activity in nucleus accumbens (NAc) in response to chronic administration of cocaine, but not of several non-abused psychoactive drugs. Morphine and cocaine also induced equivalent changes in inhibitory G protein subunits in this brain region. We thus extended our hypothesis to suggest that, particularly within brain reward regions such as NAc, cAMP pathway upregulation represents a common mechanism of reward tolerance and dependence shared by several classes of drugs of abuse. Research since that time, by many laboratories, has provided substantial support for these hypotheses. Specifically, opiates in several CNS regions including NAc, and cocaine more selectively in NAc, induce expression of certain adenylyl cyclase isoforms and PKA subunits via the transcription factor, CREB, and these transcriptional adaptations serve a homeostatic function to oppose drug action. In certain brain regions, such as locus coeruleus, these adaptations mediate aspects of physical opiate dependence and withdrawal, whereas in NAc they mediate reward tolerance and dependence that drives increased drug self-administration. This work has had important implications for understanding the molecular basis of addiction.

Original article abstract: "A general role for adaptations in G-proteins and the cyclic AMP system in mediating the chronic actions of morphine and cocaine on neuronal function". Previous studies have shown that chronic morphine increases levels of the G-protein subunits Giα and Goα, adenylate cyclase, cyclic AMP-dependent protein kinase, and certain phosphoproteins in the rat locus coeruleus, but not in several other brain regions studied, and that chronic morphine decreases levels of Giα and increases levels of adenylate cyclase in dorsal root ganglion/spinal cord (DRG-SC) co-cultures. These findings led us to survey the effects of chronic morphine on the G-protein/cyclic AMP system in a large number of brain regions to determine how widespread such regulation might be. We found that while most regions showed no regulation in response to chronic morphine, nucleus accumbens (NAc) and amygdala did show increases in adenylate cyclase and cyclic AMP-dependent protein kinase activity, and thalamus showed an increase in cyclic AMP-dependent protein kinase activity only. An increase in cyclic AMP-dependent protein kinase activity was also observed in DRG-SC co-cultures. Morphine regulation of G-proteins was variable, with decreased levels of Giα seen in the NAc, increased levels of Giα and Goα amygdala, and no change in thalamus or the other brain regions studied. Interestingly, chronic treatment of rats with cocaine, but not with several non-abused drugs, produced similar changes compared to morphine in G-proteins, adenylate cyclase, and cyclic AMP-dependent protein kinase in the NAc, but not in the other brain regions studied. These results indicate that regulation of the G-protein/cyclic AMP system represents a mechanism by which a number of opiate-sensitive neurons adapt to chronic morphine and thereby develop aspects of opiate tolerance and/or dependence. The findings that chronic morphine and cocaine produce similar adaptations in the NAc, a brain region important for the reinforcing actions of many types of abused substances, suggest further that common mechanisms may underlie psychological aspects of drug addiction mediated by this brain region. © 1991. This article is part of a Special Issue entitled SI:50th Anniversary Issue.

Keywords: Addiction; Adenylyl cyclase; CREB; Drugs of abuse; G alpha subunits; Opiates; Protein kinase A; Stimulants.

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