A considerable body of evidence indicates that opiates have an important influence on midbrain dopaminergic neurons. However, little data exist concerning the effects of opiates on the activity of single dopaminergic neurons, particularly the dopaminergic neurons of the ventral tegmental area. Firing rates of mesencephalic dopaminergic neurons were recorded extracellularly, and the effects of morphine, administered systemically or applied locally onto dopaminergic cells, were tested in paralyzed, unanesthetized or chloral hydrate anesthetized rats. In general, dopaminergic neurons were excited by both systemically and locally applied morphine. When mesencephalic dopaminergic neurons were subdivided into substantia nigra zona compacta (A9) and ventral tegmental area (A10) neurons, A10 neurons were excited 2-3 times more than A9 neurons by systemic morphine. Systemic administration of the specific opiate antagonist, naloxone, in large part reversed the effects of morphine. Microiontophoretic or micropressure ejection of morphine caused an apparent depolarization-induced excitation of both A10 and A9 dopaminergic neurons. These results provide direct evidence that morphine increases impulse flow of A10 dopaminergic neurons, which are known to be involved in locomotor stimulant and positive reinforcement effects of opiates.
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