Mu opioid receptor knockdown in the substantia nigra/ventral tegmental area by synthetic small interfering RNA blocks the rewarding and locomotor effects of heroin


  • Y. Zhang
  • M. Landthaler
  • S.D. Schlussman
  • V. Yuferov
  • A. Ho
  • T. Tuschl
  • M.J. Kreek


  • Neuroscience


  • Neuroscience 158 (2): 474-483


  • Mu opioid receptors (MOP-r) play an important role in the rewarding and locomotor stimulatory effects of heroin. The aim of the current study was to determine whether infusion of small interfering RNAs (siRNA) targeting MOP-r into the midbrain could knock down MOP-r mRNA and affect heroin-induced locomotor activity or heroin-induced conditioned place preference. Ten-week-old male C57BL/6J mice were surgically implanted bilaterally with guide cannulae directed between the substantia nigra and ventral tegmental area. After 4 days' recovery, mice were infused bilaterally with siRNAs that target the MOP-r (2 mMx0.75 microl/side/day for 3 days) or control siRNA. Seven days after the last infusion, a procedure for conditioned place preference was begun with four heroin (3 mg/kg i.p.) administration sessions alternating with four saline sessions. While heroin induced an increase in locomotor activity in all groups, siRNAs targeting specific regions of MOP-r significantly attenuated this effect. Of particular interest, mice infused with specific siRNAs targeting the MOP-r failed to develop and express conditioned place preference to heroin, or showed a significantly attenuated preference. These alterations in reward-related behaviors are likely due to the reduction in MOP-r mRNA and protein, shown in separate studies by in situ hybridization and autoradiography using the same MOP-r- siRNA infusions. Taken together, these studies demonstrate the utility of siRNA in the neurobiological study of specific components of the reward system and should contribute to the study of other complex behaviors.