Understanding the neurobiological underpinnings of abstinence from drug abuse is critical to better recovery and ensure relapse prevention in addicted subjects. By comparing the long-term transcriptional consequences of morphine and cocaine exposure, we identified the metabotropic glutamate receptor subtype 4 (mGluR4) as a promising pharmacological target in morphine abstinence.
We evaluated the behavioral and molecular effects of facilitating mGluR4 activity in abstinent mice. Transcriptional regulation of marker genes of medium spiny neurons (MSNs) allowed the best to discriminate between 4-week morphine and cocaine abstinence in the nucleus accumbens (NAc). Among these markers, Grm4, encoding mGluR4, displayed down-regulated expression in the caudate-putamen and NAc of morphine, but not cocaine, abstinent mice. Chronic administration of the mGluR4 positive allosteric modulator (PAM) VU0155041 (2.5 and 5 mg/kg) rescued social behavior, normalized stereotypes, and anxiety and blunted locomotor sensitization in morphine abstinent mice. This treatment improved social preference but increased stereotypes in cocaine abstinent mice. Finally, the beneficial behavioral effects of VU0155041 treatment in morphine abstinent mice were correlated with restored expression of key MSN and neural activity marker genes in the NAc.
This study reports that chronic administration of the mGluR4 PAM VU0155041 relieves long-term deleterious consequences of morphine exposure. It illustrates the neurobiological differences between opiate and psychostimulant abstinence and points to pharmacological repression of excessive activity of D2-MSNs in the NAc as a promising therapeutic lever in drug addiction.