Mu-opioid peptide receptor (MOPR) stimulation alters respiration, analgesia, and reward behavior, and can induce addiction and drug overdose. Despite its evident importance, the endogenous mechanisms for MOPR regulation of appetitive behavior have remained unknown. Here we report that endogenous MOPR regulation of appetitive behavior in mice acts through a specific dorsal raphe to nucleus accumbens projection. MOPR-mediated inhibition of raphe terminals is necessary and sufficient to determine appetitive behavioral state while select enkephalin-containing NAc ensembles are engaged prior to reward consumption, suggesting that local enkephalin release is the source of endogenous MOPR ligand. Selective modulation of NAc enkephalin neurons and CRISPR-Cas9-mediated disruption of enkephalin substantiate this finding. These results isolate a fundamental endogenous opioid circuit for state-dependent appetitive behavior and suggest alternative mechanisms for opiate modulation of reward.
bioRxiv Subject Collection: Neuroscience