Decreased firing frequency of midbrain dopamine neurons in mice lacking mu opioid receptors

Daniel S. Mathon, Geert M.J. Ramakers, John E. Pintar, Michela Marinelli

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


Dopamine neurons originating in the midbrain and projecting to cortico-limbic and motor structures are one of the major neuronal substrates implicated in the reinforcing properties of drugs of abuse. The output of this system is largely determined by its impulse activity (amount and pattern of firing activity). Several intrinsic and synaptic factors can influence dopamine neuronal activity and, consequently, addiction liability. Pharmacological studies indicate that μ-opioid receptors and their activation by endogenous opioids may play an important role. In the present study, we use a genetic approach to better understand the role of μ-opioid receptors in modulating dopamine neuronal activity in vivo. Using in vivo extracellular single-unit recordings, we show that mice lacking μ-opioid receptors exhibit lower firing rates of dopamine neurons compared with their wild-type littermates. Although we observed no overall changes in bursting activity compared with wild-type mice, animals lacking μ-opioid receptors exhibited a higher proportion of regular-spiking cells that lacked bursting activity. These findings are the first to emphasize the critical role of μ-opioid receptors in modulating action potential output of dopamine neurons in vivo using a genetic approach. They also provide a possible underlying mechanism for the decreased reinforcing properties of drugs of abuse that was previously observed in mice lacking μ-opioid receptors.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2883-2886
Number of pages4
JournalEuropean Journal of Neuroscience
Issue number10
StatePublished - May 2005

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Neuroscience(all)


  • Addiction
  • Dopaminergic
  • Electrophysiology
  • Impulse activity
  • Reward


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