Ultrastructural immunocytochemical localization of mu-opioid receptors in dendritic targets of dopaminergic terminals in the rat caudate-putamen nucleus

Neuroscience. 1997 Dec;81(3):757-71. doi: 10.1016/s0306-4522(97)00253-4.


Many motor effects of opiates acting at mu-opioid receptors are thought to reflect functional interactions with dopaminergic inputs to the caudate-putamen nucleus. We examined the cellular and subcellular bases for this interaction in the rat caudate-putamen nucleus by dual immunocytochemical labelling for mu-opioid receptors and tyrosine hydroxylase, a marker mainly for dopamine in this region. mu-Opioid receptor-like immunoreactivity showed a patchy distribution by light microscopy. Within the patches, electron microscopy revealed that immunogold labelling for mu-opioid receptors was mainly distributed along extrasynaptic plasma membranes of medium spiny neurons. In contrast, immunoperoxidase labelling for tyrosine hydroxylase was exclusively located in axons and axon terminals without detectable mu-opioid receptor-like immunoreactivity. Forty-six percent of the total mu-opioid receptor-labelled neuronal profiles (n = 1441) were in contact with tyrosine hydroxylase-immunoreactive axons and terminals. These contacts were characterized by closely apposed parallel plasma membrane segments, without well-defined synaptic junctions, or with punctate symmetric specializations. From 639 noted appositions, over 90% were between mu-opioid receptor-labelled dendrites and/or dendritic spines and tyrosine hydroxylase-containing terminals. The dendritic spines containing mu-opioid receptor-like immunoreactivity often received asymmetric synapses characteristics of excitatory inputs from unlabelled terminals. Axon terminals containing mu-opioid receptor-like immunoreactivity formed asymmetric synapses with dendritic spines, or apposed tyrosine hydroxylase-labelled terminals. Our results suggest that, in striatal patch compartments, mu-agonists and dopamine dually modulate the activity of single spiny neurons mainly through changes in their postsynaptic responses to excitatory inputs. In addition, our findings implicate mu-opioid receptors and dopamine in the presynaptic regulation of excitatory neurotransmitter release within the striatal patch compartments.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Axons / metabolism
  • Caudate Nucleus / metabolism*
  • Caudate Nucleus / ultrastructure
  • Dendrites / metabolism*
  • Dendrites / ultrastructure*
  • Dopamine / physiology*
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Male
  • Nerve Endings / metabolism*
  • Nerve Endings / ultrastructure
  • Putamen / metabolism*
  • Putamen / ultrastructure
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Receptors, Opioid, mu / metabolism*
  • Tissue Distribution
  • Tyrosine 3-Monooxygenase / metabolism


  • Receptors, Opioid, mu
  • Tyrosine 3-Monooxygenase
  • Dopamine