Cellular relations between μ-opioid receptive, GABAergic and reticulospinal neurons in the rostral ventrolateral medulla

Teresa A. Milner, Carrie T. Drake, Sue A. Aicher

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


Physiological studies have suggested that μ-opioid receptor (MOR) activation can both excite and inhibit reticulospinal neurons in the rostral ventrolateral medulla (RVL), possibly via influences on GABAergic neurons. Thus, to determine the cellular relationships of MORs to GABAergic neurons in the RVL, two experimental approaches were used. First, single sections through the RVL were labeled for MOR using immunoperoxidase detection and for GABA using immunogold detection and examined by electron microscopy. These studies revealed that MOR-immunoreactive (IR) terminals were smaller on average than GABA-IR terminals and formed both asymmetric and symmetric synapses, whereas GABA-IR terminals formed exclusively symmetric synapses. MOR and GABA immunoreactivities rarely co-localized. Interactions between axons and terminals containing MOR or GABA immunoreactivity were primarily: (1) direct appositions with each other; or (2) convergence onto a common dendritic target that sometimes contained either MOR or GABA immunoreactivity. Since the identity of these target dendrites mostly was unknown, a second study was designed to determine if they might be reticulospinal neurons. For this study, reticulospinal neurons were identified with a retrograde tracer and both MOR and GABA were localized in the same sections of the RVL. These studies revealed that numerous GABA-IR terminals formed symmetric synapses on the perikarya and proximal dendrites of reticulospinal neurons. In contrast, few MOR-IR terminals contacted reticulospinal perikarya and large dendrites although they were often found nearby. These results provide anatomical evidence that MOR activation by endogenous or exogenous agonists may indirectly alter GABAergic neurotransmission in the RVL either through presynaptic interactions between cells or through competing influences on postsynaptic targets.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-14
Number of pages14
JournalBrain research
Issue number1
StatePublished - Oct 26 2001


  • C1 adrenergic area
  • Electron microscopy
  • Enkephalin
  • Ultrastructure

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Molecular Biology
  • Clinical Neurology
  • Developmental Biology


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