Characterization of Neurons in the Rat Central Nucleus of the Amygdala: Cellular Physiology, Morphology, and Opioid Sensitivity

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The central nucleus of the amygdala (CeA) orchestrates autonomic and other behavioral and physiological responses to conditioned stimuli that are aversive or elicit fear. As a related CeA function is the expression of hypoalgesia induced by conditioned stimuli or systemic morphine administration, we examined postsynaptic opioid modulation of neurons in each major CeA subdivision. Following electrophysiological recording, biocytin-filled neurons were precisely located in CeA regions identified by chemoarchitecture (enkephalin-immunoreactivity) and cytoarchitecture (DAPI nuclear staining) in fixed adult rat brain slices. This revealed a striking distribution of physiological types, as 92% of neurons in capsular CeA were classified as late-firing, whereas no neurons in the medial CeA were of this class. In contrast, 60% or more of neurons in the lateral and medial CeA were low-threshold bursting neurons. Mu-opioid receptor (MOPR) agonists induced postsynaptic inhibitory potassium currents in 61% of CeA cells, and this ratio was maintained in each subdivision and for each physiological class of neuron. However, MOPR agonists more frequently inhibited bipolar/fusiform cells than triangular or multipolar neurons. A subpopulation of MOPR-expressing neurons were also inhibited by delta opioid receptor agonists, whereas a separate population were inhibited kappa opioid receptors (KOPR). The MOPR agonist DAMGO inhibited 9/9 CeM neurons with projections to the parabrachial nucleus identified by retrograde tracer injection. These data support models of striatopallidal organization that have identified striatal-like and pallidal-like CeA regions. Opioids can directly inhibit output from each subdivision by activating postsynaptic MOPRs or KOPRs on distinct subpopulations of opioid-sensitive neurons. J. Comp. Neurol. 497:910–927, 2006. © 2006 Wiley-Liss, Inc.

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