Kappa opioid receptors in the rostral ventromedial medulla of male and female rats

Carrie T. Drake, Andrew X. De Oliveira, Jonathan A. Harris, Denise M. Connor, Clayton W. Winkler, Sue A. Aicher

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations


Kappa opioid receptor (KOR) ligands alter nociceptive responses when applied to the rostral ventromedial medulla (RVM). However, the effects of kappa opioid receptor ligands are distinct in males and females. The present study examined the distribution of kappa opioid receptor immunoreactivity in the RVM of male and female rats. KOR immunoreactivity was found at pre- and postsynaptic sites within the RVM of both sexes. The most common KOR-immunoreactive (KOR-ir) neuronal structures were unmyelinated axons, followed by axon terminals, dendrites, and somata. Different proportions of KOR-ir axon terminals and dendrites were found in females at different estrous stages. Specifically, dendrites containing KOR immunoreactivity were less abundant in proestrus females compared with estrus females and showed a trend toward being less abundant in males, suggesting that KOR ligands applied to the RVM may be less potent in proestrus females. These findings suggest that the distribution of KORs in the RVM may be influenced by reproductive hormone levels. We also found KOR immunoreactivity in many spinally projecting neurons within the RVM of female rats. These findings are consistent with the hypothesis that KOR ligands influence nociceptive behaviors by altering the activity of specific populations of neurons within the RVM. The abundance of KOR in axons and axon terminals in RVM indicates a substantial role for presynaptic effects of KOR ligands through pathways that have not been clearly delineated. Altering the balance between pre- and postsynaptic receptive sites may underlie differences in the effects of KOR agonists on nociceptive responses in males and females.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)465-476
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Comparative Neurology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jan 20 2007


  • Electron microscopy
  • Rostral ventromedial medulla
  • Sex differences

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)


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