Brain research bulletin

Effects of morphine withdrawal on the membrane properties of medium spiny neurons in the nucleus accumbens shell.

PMID 23069789


Medium spiny neurons (MSNs) in the nucleus accumbens (NAc) undergo persistent alterations in their biological and physiological characteristics upon exposure to drugs of abuse. Previous studies demonstrated that the biochemical, morphological, and intrinsic physiological properties of MSNs are heterogeneous and provided new insights into the physiological and molecular roles of individual MSNs in addictive behaviors. However, it remains unclear whether MSNs in the NAc shell (NAcSh), an important region for mediating behavioral sensitization, are electrophysiologically heterogeneous and how such heterogeneity is relevant to neuroadaptation associated with drug addiction. Here, the membrane properties, i.e., the intrinsic excitability and spike adaptation, of MSNs in the NAcSh from saline- or morphine-treated rats were investigated in vitro by whole-cell recording. In saline-treated rats, three distinct cell types were identified by their membrane properties: type I neurons showed high levels of intrinsic excitability and rapid spike adaptation; type II neurons showed moderate levels of intrinsic excitability and relatively slow spike frequency adaptation; type III neurons showed low levels of intrinsic excitability and putative strong spike adaptation. MSNs in rats undergoing withdrawal from chronic morphine treatment (10-14 days after the last injection) also exhibited the typical firing behaviors of these three types of neurons. However, the membrane properties of the MSNs were differentially altered after withdrawal. There was an enhancement in intrinsic excitability in type II MSNs and a promotion of spike adaptation in type I MSNs. The apamin-sensitive afterhyperpolarization current (I(AHP)) and the apamin-insensitive I(AHP) of the NAcSh MSNs were attenuated after chronic morphine withdrawal. These findings suggest that individual MSNs in the NAcSh manifest unique electrophysiological properties, which might contribute to psychostimulant-induced neuroadaptation.