Major hallmarks of astrocyte physiology are the elevation of intracellular calcium in response to neurotransmitters and the release of neuroactive substances (gliotransmitters) that modulate neuronal activity. While μ-opioid receptor expression has been identified in astrocytes of the nucleus accumbens, the functional consequences on astrocyte–neuron communication remains largely unknown. The present study has investigated the astrocyte responsiveness to μ-opioid signaling and the regulation of gliotransmission in the nucleus accumbens. Through the combination of calcium imaging and whole-cell patch clamp electrophysiology in brain slices, we have found that μ-opioid receptor activation in astrocytes elevates astrocyte cytoplasmic calcium and stimulates the release of the gliotransmitter glutamate, which evokes slow inward currents through the activation of neuronal N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptors. These results indicate the existence of molecular mechanisms underlying opioid-mediated astrocyte–neuron signaling in the nucleus accumbens.
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