Role of dynorphin and enkephalin in the regulation of striatal output pathways and behavior
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Projection neurons in the striatum give rise to two output systems, the “direct” and “indirect” pathways, which antagonistically regulate basal ganglia output. While all striatal projection neurons utilize GABA as their principal neurotransmitter, they express different opioid peptide co-transmitters and also different dopamine receptor subtypes. Neurons of the direct pathway express the peptide dynorphin and the D1 dopamine receptor, whereas indirect pathway neurons express the peptide enkephalin and the D2 receptor. In the present review, we summarize our findings on the function of dynorphin and enkephalin in these striatal output pathways. In these studies, we used D1- or D2-receptor-mediated induction of immediate-early genes as a cellular response in direct or indirect projection neurons, respectively, to investigate the role of these opioid peptides. Our results suggest that the specific function of dynorphin and enkephalin is to dampen excessive activation of these neurons by dopamine and other neurotransmitters. Levels of these opioid peptides are elevated by repeated, excessive activation of these pathways, which appears to be an adaptive or compensatory response. Behavioral consequences of increased opioid peptide function in striatal output pathways may include behavioral sensitization (dynorphin) and recovery of motor function (enkephalin).
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