Dynorphin‐immunoreactive neurons in the rat nucleus accumbens: Ultrastructure and synaptic input from terminals containing substance P and/or dynorphin

Elisabeth J. van Bockstaele, K. Noelle Gracy, Virginia M. Pickel

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The endogenous opioid peptide dynorphin is enriched in neurons in the nucleus accumbens, for which coexistence and synaptic interactions with substance P have been postulated. We examined the immunogold‐silver localization of dynorphin and immunoperoxidase labeling for substance P in single coronal sections through the core subregion of the nucleus accumbens of acrolein‐fixed rat brain tissue. Dynorphin‐immunoreactive somata were more prevalent than substance P‐containing neurons throughout the region sampled for ultrastructural analysis. Dynorphin‐labeled cells were spherical, contained unindented nuclei, and were closely apposed to other somata and dendrites, some of which also contained dynorphin immunoreactivity. The appositions were characterized by the absence of glial processes and contiguous contacts between the plasma membranes. Smooth endoplasmic reticulum and coated vesicles could also be identified in the cytoplasms on either side of the somatic or dendritic appositions. The dynorphin somata and dendrites received synaptic input from numerous unlabeled as well as dynorphin‐and/or substance P‐labeled axon terminals. Both types of terminals were morphologically similar in their content of small and large dense core vesicles and their formation of mainly symmetric synaptic specializations. In addition to dynorphin‐immunoreactive targets, numerous dynorphin‐and substance P‐labeled terminals also formed synapses with unlabeled somata and dendrites. In some cases, terminals separately labeled for dynorphin and substance P converged on common targets with or without detectable dynorphin immunoreactivity. Terminals colocalizing both peptides were also found to synapse on unlabeled or dynorphin‐labeled somata and dendrites. Additionally, presynaptic interactions were suggested by close appositions between dynorphin‐and/or substance P‐labeled terminals and other terminals that were unlabeled, dynorphin labeled, or substance P labeled. These results provide morphological data suggesting nonsynaptic communication between dynorphin‐immunoreactive neurons and other neurons possibly mediated through receptive sites or second messengers associated with smooth endoplasmic reticulum in the nucleus accumbens. They also indicate that, in this region, 1) the activity of dynorphin neurons may be dependent on activation of autoreceptors for dynorphin as well as substance P and 2) additional neurons lacking dynorphin immunoreactivity are most likely inhibited (symmetric junctions) by terminals containing either one or both peptides. The findings may have implications for motor and analgesic responses to aversive tonic pain transmitted through dynorphin and substance P pathways within the nucleus accumbens. © 1995 Willy‐Liss, Inc.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)117-133
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Comparative Neurology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2 1995
Externally publishedYes


  • aversion
  • locomotion
  • opioid peptides
  • tachykinin
  • ventral striatum


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