Adolescent morphine exposure affects long-term microglial function and later-life relapse liability in a model of addiction.
Adolescence in humans represents a unique developmental time point associated with increased risk-taking behavior and experimentation with drugs of abuse. We hypothesized that exposure to drugs of abuse during adolescence may increase the risk of addiction in adulthood. To test this, rats were treated with a subchronic regimen of morphine or saline in adolescence, and their preference for morphine was examined using conditioned place preference (CPP) and drug-induced reinstatement in adulthood. The initial preference for morphine did not differ between groups; however, rats treated with morphine during adolescence showed robust reinstatement of morphine CPP after drug re-exposure in adulthood. This effect was not seen in rats pretreated with a subchronic regimen of morphine as adults, suggesting that exposure to morphine specifically during adolescence increases the risk of relapse to drug-seeking behavior in adulthood. We have previously established a role for microglia, the immune cells of the brain, and immune molecules in the risk of drug-induced reinstatement of morphine CPP. Thus, we examined the role of microglia within the nucleus accumbens of these rats and determined that rats exposed to morphine during adolescence had a significant increase in Toll-like receptor 4 (TLR4) mRNA and protein expression specifically on microglia. Morphine binds to TLR4 directly, and this increase in TLR4 was associated with exaggerated morphine-induced TLR4 signaling and microglial activation in rats previously exposed to morphine during adolescence. These data suggest that long-term changes in microglial function, caused by adolescent morphine exposure, alter the risk of drug-induced reinstatement in adulthood.
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