The present review focused the involvement of N-methyl-d-aspartate (NMDA) receptors in morphine physical dependence. The increased levels of extracellular glutamate, NMDA receptor ζ subunit (NR1) mRNA, NMDA receptor ε1 subunit (NR2A) protein, phosphorylated Ca 2+/calmodulin kinase II (p-CaMKII) protein, c-fos mRNA, c-Fos protein, are observed in the specific brain areas of mice and/or rats showing signs of naloxone-precipitated withdrawal. In preclinical and clinical studies, a variety of NMDA receptor antagonists and pretreatment with an antisense oligonucleotide of the NR1 have been reported to inhibit the development, expression and/or maintenance of opiate physical dependence. In contrast to data obtained in adult animals, NMDA receptor antagonists are neither effective in blocking the development of opiate dependence nor the expression of opiate withdrawal in neonatal rats. In the NMDA receptor-deficient mice, the NR2A knockout mice show the marked loss of typical withdrawal abstinence behaviors precipitated by naloxone. The rescue of NR2A protein by electroporation into the nucleus accumbens of NR2A knockout mice reverses the loss of abstinence behaviors. The activation of CaMKII and increased expression of c-Fos protein in the brain of animals with naloxone-precipitated withdrawal syndrome are prevented by NMDA receptor antagonists, whereas the increased levels of extracellular glutamate are not prevented by them. These findings indicate that glutamatergic neurotransmission at the NMDA receptor site contributes to the development, expression and maintenance of opiate dependence, and suggest that NMDA receptor antagonists may be a useful adjunct in the treatment of opiate dependence.
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