The neurotrophins brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) and neurotrophin-3 (NT-3) and their receptors trkB andtrkC, respectively, are expressed in the locus coeruleus (LC) and ventral tegmental area (VTA), brain regions known to be involved in opiate addiction.
Previously, administration of exogenous neurotrophins has been shown to oppose effects of chronic morphine treatment on LC and VTA neurons. However, the response of endogenous neurotrophins in LC and VTA to opiate treatment is unknown.
BDNF, NT-3, trkB, and trkC mRNAs were analyzed in these regions after chronic morphine treatment and during antagonist precipitated withdrawal. Although chronic morphine exposure resulted in only modest increases in BDNF and NT-3 mRNA expression in LC, precipitated withdrawal led to a marked, rapid, and prolonged increase in BDNF mRNA and a delayed decrease in NT-3 mRNA.
Levels of trkB and trkC mRNAs, which were unchanged by chronic morphine treatment, were elevated in LC at 2 and 6 hr of withdrawal. By 20 hr, trkB mRNA levels in LC had returned to control, whereas trkC mRNA levels fell below control values.
In contrast to the substantial alterations observed in LC, there was no regulation of the neurotrophins or rkmRNAs within the VTA during chronic opiate treatment or withdrawal, with the exception of an increase in trkB mRNA at 6 hr of withdrawal.
These results suggest that neurotrophins and their receptors per se may be involved in opiate-induced plasticity of the LC, whereas other mechanisms would appear to be involved in the VTA.