Opioid-Mediated Astrocyte-Neuron Signaling in the Nucleus Accumbens

Cells. 2019 Jun 14;8(6):586. doi: 10.3390/cells8060586.


Major hallmarks of astrocyte physiology are the elevation of intracellular calcium in response to neurotransmitters and the release of neuroactive substances (gliotransmitters) that modulate neuronal activity. While μ-opioid receptor expression has been identified in astrocytes of the nucleus accumbens, the functional consequences on astrocyte-neuron communication remains largely unknown. The present study has investigated the astrocyte responsiveness to μ-opioid signaling and the regulation of gliotransmission in the nucleus accumbens. Through the combination of calcium imaging and whole-cell patch clamp electrophysiology in brain slices, we have found that μ-opioid receptor activation in astrocytes elevates astrocyte cytoplasmic calcium and stimulates the release of the gliotransmitter glutamate, which evokes slow inward currents through the activation of neuronal N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptors. These results indicate the existence of molecular mechanisms underlying opioid-mediated astrocyte-neuron signaling in the nucleus accumbens.

Keywords: astrocytes; opioids; synaptic transmission.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Analgesics, Opioid / pharmacology*
  • Animals
  • Astrocytes / drug effects
  • Astrocytes / metabolism*
  • Calcium / metabolism
  • Enkephalin, Ala(2)-MePhe(4)-Gly(5)- / pharmacology
  • Glial Fibrillary Acidic Protein / metabolism
  • Inositol 1,4,5-Trisphosphate Receptors / metabolism
  • Membrane Potentials
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Naltrexone / pharmacology
  • Neurons / drug effects
  • Neurons / metabolism*
  • Receptors, Opioid, mu / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Receptors, Opioid, mu / metabolism
  • Signal Transduction* / drug effects


  • Analgesics, Opioid
  • Glial Fibrillary Acidic Protein
  • Inositol 1,4,5-Trisphosphate Receptors
  • Receptors, Opioid, mu
  • Enkephalin, Ala(2)-MePhe(4)-Gly(5)-
  • Naltrexone
  • Calcium