Blood oxygen level dependent (BOLD) imaging in awake mice was used to identify differences in brain activity between wild-type, and Mu (μ) opioid receptor knock-outs (MuKO) in response to oxycodone (OXY). Using a segmented, annotated MRI mouse atlas and computational analysis, patterns of integrated positive and negative BOLD activity were identified across 122 brain areas. The pattern of positive BOLD showed enhanced activation across the brain in WT mice within 15 min of intraperitoneal administration of 2.5 mg of OXY. BOLD activation was detected in 72 regions out of 122, and was most prominent in areas of high μ opioid receptor density (thalamus, ventral tegmental area, substantia nigra, caudate putamen, basal amygdala, and hypothalamus), and focus on pain circuits indicated strong activation in major pain processing centers (central amygdala, solitary tract, parabrachial area, insular cortex, gigantocellularis area, ventral thalamus primary sensory cortex, and prelimbic cortex). Importantly, the OXY-induced positive BOLD was eliminated in MuKO mice in most regions, with few exceptions (some cerebellar nuclei, CA3 of the hippocampus, medial amygdala, and preoptic areas). This result indicates that most effects of OXY on positive BOLD are mediated by the μ opioid receptor (on-target effects). OXY also caused an increase in negative BOLD in WT mice in few regions (16 out of 122) and, unlike the positive BOLD response the negative BOLD was only partially eliminated in the MuKO mice (cerebellum), and in some case intensified (hippocampus). Negative BOLD analysis therefore shows activation and deactivation events in the absence of the μ receptor for some areas where receptor expression is normally extremely low or absent (off-target effects). Together, our approach permits establishing opioid-induced BOLD activation maps in awake mice. In addition, comparison of WT and MuKO mutant mice reveals both on-target and off-target activation events, and set an OXY brain signature that should, in the future, be compared to other μ opioid agonists.
Keywords: BOLD fMRI; BOLD imaging; addiction; knockout mouse; mu-opioid receptor; opioid receptors; oxycodone; target activation map.