Two delta opioid receptor subtypes are functional in single ventral tegmental area neurons, and can interact with the mu opioid receptor
The mu and delta opioid receptors (MOR and DOR) are highly homologous members of the opioid family of GPCRs. There is evidence that MOR and DOR interact, however the extent to which these interactions occur in vivo and affect synaptic function is unknown. There are two stable DOR subtypes: DPDPE sensitive (DOR1) and deltorphin II sensitive (DOR2); both agonists are blocked by DOR selective antagonists. Robust motivational effects are produced by local actions of both MOR and DOR ligands in the ventral tegmental area (VTA). Here we demonstrate that a majority of both dopaminergic and non-dopaminergic VTA neurons express combinations of functional DOR1, DOR2, and/or MOR, and that within a single VTA neuron, DOR1, DOR2, and MOR agonists can differentially couple to downstream signaling pathways. As reported for the MOR agonist DAMGO, DPDPE and deltorphin II produced either a predominant K+ dependent hyperpolarization or a Cav2.1 mediated depolarization in different neurons. In some neurons DPDPE and deltorphin II produced opposite responses. Excitation, inhibition, or no effect by DAMGO did not predict the response to DPDPE or deltorphin II, arguing against a MOR-DOR interaction generating DOR subtypes. However, in a subset of VTA neurons the DOR antagonist TIPP-Ψ augmented DAMGO responses; we also observed DPDPE or deltorphin II responses augmented by the MOR selective antagonist CTAP. These findings directly support the existence of two independent, stable forms of the DOR, and show that MOR and DOR can interact in some neurons to alter downstream signaling.