Distinct profiles of anxiety and dysphoria during spontaneous withdrawal from acute morphine exposure

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The negative motivational aspects of withdrawal include symptoms of both anxiety and depression, and emerge after termination of chronic drug use as well as after acute drug exposure. States of acute withdrawal are an inherent part of intermittent drug use in humans, but the contribution of acute withdrawal to the development of addiction has received limited systematic investigation, because of a lack of preclinical models for withdrawal states that emerge spontaneously after acute drug exposure. Here, we have characterized a spontaneous increase in the magnitude of the acoustic startle reflex (ie, spontaneous withdrawal-potentiated startle) that emerges after acute morphine administration in rats, and compared the time course of startle potentiation and place conditioning. We find that startle potentiation seems to be related to a decrease in opiate receptor occupancy and reflects an anxiety-like state with a pharmacological profile similar to other signs of opiate withdrawal. Spontaneous startle potentiation emerges before the rewarding effects of morphine have subsided, even though naloxone administration after a single morphine exposure causes both startle potentiation and conditioned place aversion (CPA). These results show that negative emotional signs of withdrawal develop after just one exposure to morphine, and are likely a recurrent aspect of intermittent drug use that may contribute to the earliest adaptations underlying the development of addiction. Furthermore, the dissociation between spontaneous startle potentiation and CPA suggests anxiogenic and dysphoric manifestations of opiate withdrawal may be mediated by distinct neural mechanisms that are progressively engaged as withdrawal unfolds.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2285-2295
Number of pages11
Issue number10
StatePublished - Sep 2009

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank Bonnie LaCroix and Malaak Moussa for expert technical assistance, and Dr Andrew Harris and members of the Gewirtz and Thomas labs for helpful comments. This work was supported by funding from the University of Minnesota Graduate School (to PER) and Grants from NIDA (DA007234 and DA023750 to PER, DA019666 to MJT, and DA018784 to JCG), the Whitehall Foundation (to MJT), and NARSAD (to JCG).


  • Acoustic startle
  • Anxiety
  • Dysphoria
  • Morphine
  • Place conditioning
  • Withdrawal


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