We have recently shown, by using immunoelectron microscopy, that the mu- opioid receptor (μOR) is prominently distributed within noradrenergic perikarya and dendrites of the nucleus locus coeruleus (LC), many of which receive excitatory-type (i.e., asymmetric) synaptic contacts from unlabeled axon terminals. To characterize further the neurotransmitter present in these afferent terminals, we examined in the present study the ultrastructural localization of an antipeptide sequence unique to the μOR in sections that were also dually labeled for the opioid peptide leucine-enkephalin (L-ENK). Immunogold-silver labeling for μOR was localized to extrasynaptic portions of the plasma membranes of perikarya and dendrites. The μOR-labeled dendrites were usually postsynaptic to axon terminals containing heterogeneous types of synaptic vesicles and forming asymmetric synaptic specializations characteristic of excitatory-type synapses. The majority of these were immunolabeled for the endogenous opioid peptide L-ENK. Some μOR- labeled dendrites received synaptic contacts from unlabeled axon terminals in fields containing L-ENK immunoreactivity. In such cases, the μOR-labeled dendrites were in proximity to L-ENK axon terminals that contained intense peroxidase labeling within large dense core vesicles along the perimeter of the axoplasm. These results indicate that L-ENK may be released by exocytosis from the dense core vesicles and diffuse within the extracellular space to reach μOR sites on the postsynaptic dendrite or dendrites of other neighboring neurons. The present study also reveals that unlabeled terminals apposed to μOR-labeled dendrites may contain other opioid peptides, such as methionine-enkephalin. These data demonstrate several sites where endogenous opioid peptides may interact with μOR receptive sites in the LC and may provide an anatomical substrate for the LC's involvement in mechanisms of opiate dependence and withdrawal.
|Original language||English (US)|
|Number of pages||10|
|Journal||Journal of Comparative Neurology|
|State||Published - Dec 2 1996|
- drug abuse
ASJC Scopus subject areas