Of patients that are prescribed opioid medication, approximately 21-29% misuse the drug and 8-12% develop an opioid use disorder (NIH). The government has put forth initiatives to combat addiction related disorders, but in 2018, an average of 128 people died each day from overdosing on opioids in (NIH). The opioid epidemic started with over prescription of opioid medication, and the increased opioid usage and death was furthered by the production of heroin and synthetic opioid drugs. This activity explores a publication by Matsui and Williams (2011), where the authors explored the effect of opioids on neurons in the brain. Specifically, it focuses on how neuron communication in the brain reward center changes in response to opioids. Opioids, such as oxycodone or morphine, can become a drug of abuse because they over stimulate reward centers in the brain and can lead to addition. Through the exploration of a dataset, extrapolated from Matsui and Williams (2011), students follow sequential experiments examining the effect of opioids on neurons of the ventral tegmental area (VTA), one the main regions in the brain’s reward pathway. Students will analyze data showing that opioids indirectly increase the activity of dopamine neurons through the mu opioid receptor. To explore these concepts, students create graphs and make statistical analyses to compare electrophysiological data from neurons exposed to opioid receptor agonists and antagonists.
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