Atg5- and Atg7-dependent autophagy in dopaminergic neurons regulates cellular and behavioral responses to morphine.

PMID 28722508


The molecular basis of chronic morphine exposure remains unknown. In this study, we hypothesized that macroautophagy/autophagy of dopaminergic neurons would mediate the alterations of neuronal dendritic morphology and behavioral responses induced by morphine. Chronic morphine exposure caused Atg5 (autophagy-related 5)- and Atg7 (autophagy-related 7)-dependent and dopaminergic neuron-specific autophagy resulting in decreased neuron dendritic spines and the onset of addictive behaviors. In cultured primary midbrain neurons, morphine treatment significantly reduced total dendritic length and complexity, and this effect could be reversed by knockdown of Atg5 or Atg7. Mice deficient for Atg5 or Atg7 specifically in the dopaminergic neurons were less sensitive to developing a morphine reward response, behavioral sensitization, analgesic tolerance and physical dependence compared to wild-type mice. Taken together, our findings suggested that the Atg5- and Atg7-dependent autophagy of dopaminergic neurons contributed to cellular and behavioral responses to morphine and may have implications for the future treatment of drug addiction.