Adaptations in Nucleus Accumbens Neuron Subtypes Mediate Negative Affective Behaviors in Fentanyl Abstinence

Megan E. Fox, Andreas B. Wulff, Daniela Franco, Eric Y. Choi, Cali A. Calarco, Michel Engeln, Makeda D. Turner, Ramesh Chandra, Victoria M. Rhodes, Scott M. Thompson, Seth A. Ament, Mary Kay Lobo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


Background: Opioid discontinuation generates a withdrawal syndrome marked by increased negative affect. Increased symptoms of anxiety and dysphoria during opioid discontinuation are significant barriers to achieving long-term abstinence in opioid-dependent individuals. While adaptations in the nucleus accumbens are implicated in opioid abstinence syndrome, the precise neural mechanisms are poorly understood. Additionally, our current knowledge is limited to changes following natural and semisynthetic opioids, despite recent increases in synthetic opioid use and overdose. Methods: We used a combination of cell subtype–specific viral labeling and electrophysiology in male and female mice to investigate structural and functional plasticity in nucleus accumbens medium spiny neuron (MSN) subtypes after fentanyl abstinence. We characterized molecular adaptations after fentanyl abstinence with subtype-specific RNA sequencing and weighted gene co-expression network analysis. We used viral-mediated gene transfer to manipulate the molecular signature of fentanyl abstinence in D1-MSNs. Results: Here, we show that fentanyl abstinence increases anxiety-like behavior, decreases social interaction, and engenders MSN subtype–specific plasticity in both sexes. D1-MSNs, but not D2-MSNs, exhibit dendritic atrophy and an increase in excitatory drive. We identified a cluster of coexpressed dendritic morphology genes downregulated selectively in D1-MSNs that are transcriptionally coregulated by E2F1. E2f1 expression in D1-MSNs protects against loss of dendritic complexity, altered physiology, and negative affect–like behaviors caused by fentanyl abstinence. Conclusions: Our findings indicate that fentanyl abstinence causes unique structural, functional, and molecular changes in nucleus accumbens D1-MSNs that can be targeted to alleviate negative affective symptoms during abstinence.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)489-501
Number of pages13
JournalBiological Psychiatry
Issue number6
StatePublished - Mar 15 2023

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Biological Psychiatry


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