Opioid activation of toll-like receptor 4 contributes to drug reinforcement

M. R. Hutchinson, A. L. Northcutt, T. Hiranita, X. Wang, S. S. Lewis, J. Thomas, K. van Steeg, T. A. Kopajtic, L. C. Loram, C. Sfregola, E. Galer, N. E. Miles, S. T. Bland, J. Amat, R. R. Rozeske, T. Maslanik, T. R. Chapman, K. A. Strand, M. Fleshner, R. K. BachtellA. A. Somogyi, H. Yin, J. L. Katz, K. C. Rice, S. F. Maier, L. R. Watkins

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

239 Scopus citations


Opioid action was thought to exert reinforcing effects solely via the initial agonism of opioid receptors. Here, we present evidence for an additional novel contributor to opioid reward: the innate immune pattern-recognition receptor, toll-like receptor 4 (TLR4), and its MyD88-dependent signaling. Blockade of TLR4/MD2 by administration of the nonopioid, unnatural isomer of naloxone, (+)-naloxone (rats), or two independent genetic knock-outs of MyD88-TLR4-dependent signaling (mice), suppressed opioid-induced conditioned place preference. (+)-Naloxone also reduced opioid (remifentanil) self-administration (rats), another commonly used behavioral mea-sure of drug reward. Moreover, pharmacological blockade of morphine-TLR4/MD2 activity potently reduced morphine-induced elevations of extracellular dopamine in rat nucleus accumbens, a region critical for opioid reinforcement. Importantly, opioid-TLR4 actions are not a unidirectional influence on opioid pharmacodynamics, since TLR4 -1- mice had reduced oxycodone-induced p38 and JNK phosphorylation, while displaying potentiated analgesia. Similar to our recent reports of morphine-TLR4/MD2 binding, here we provide a combination of in silico and biophysical data to support (+)-naloxone and remifentanil binding to TLR4/MD2. Collectively, these data indicate that the actions of opioids at classical opioid receptors, together with their newly identified TLR4/MD2 actions, affect the mesolimbic dopamine system that amplifies opioid-induced elevations in extracellular dopamine levels, therefore possibly explaining altered opioid reward behaviors. Thus, the discovery of TLR4/MD2 recognition of opioids as foreign xenobiotic substances adds to the existing hypothesized neuronal reinforcement mechanisms, identifies a new drug target in TLR4/MD2 for the treatment of addictions, and provides further evidence supporting a role for central proinflammatory immune signaling in drug reward.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)11187-11200
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Neuroscience
Issue number33
StatePublished - Aug 15 2012
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Neuroscience


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