Morphine dependence and withdrawal induced changes in cholinergic signaling

Nichole M. Neugebauer, Emily B. Einstein, Maria B. Lopez, Tristan D. McClure-Begley, Yann S. Mineur, Marina R. Picciotto*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

37 Scopus citations


Cholinergic signaling is thought to be involved in morphine dependence and withdrawal, but the specific mechanisms involved remain unclear. The current study aimed to identify alterations in the cholinergic system that may contribute to the development of morphine dependence and withdrawal. Acetylcholinesterase (AChE) activity and [3H]-epibatidine binding were evaluated in order to determine if morphine dependence and withdrawal induces alterations in cholinergic signaling or expression of high affinity nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChRs) in the midbrain (MB), medial habenula (MHb) and interpeduncular nucleus (IPN). The effect of cholinergic signaling through nAChRs on morphine-withdrawal induced jumping behavior was then determined. Lastly, the contribution of β4-containing nAChRs receptors in the MHb to morphine-withdrawal induced jumping behavior and neuronal activity as indicated by c-fos expression was assessed. Chronic morphine administration decreased AChE activity in MB and MHb, an effect that was no longer present following precipitated withdrawal. Morphine dependent mice showed increased nicotinic acetylcholine receptor (nAChR) levels in MB. Further, nicotine (0.4 mg/kg) and lobeline (3 mg/kg) decreased jumping behavior while mecamylamine (1 mg/kg) had no effect. Knock-down of β4 subunit-containing nAChRs in the MHb attenuated c-fos activation, but did not decrease morphine withdrawal-induced jumping. Thus, morphine withdrawal induces cholinergic signaling in the MHb, but this does not appear to be responsible for the effects of cholinergic drugs on somatic signs of opiate withdrawal, as measured by jumping behavior.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)77-83
Number of pages7
JournalPharmacology Biochemistry and Behavior
StatePublished - 2013


  • Acetylcholinesterase
  • Dependence
  • Lobeline
  • Morphine
  • Nicotine
  • Withdrawal

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry
  • Toxicology
  • Pharmacology
  • Clinical Biochemistry
  • Biological Psychiatry
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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