Opioid receptor and peptide mRNA expression in proliferative zones of fetal rat central nervous system.
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There is increasing evidence to suggest that opioid peptides may have widespread effects as regulators of growth. To evaluate the hypothesis that endogenous opioids control cellular proliferation during neural development, we have used in situ hybridization to examine opioid peptide and receptor mRNA expression in neuroepithelial zones of fetal rat brain and spinal cord. Our data show that proenkephalin mRNA is widely expressed in forebrain germinal zones and choroid plexus during the second half of gestation. In contrast, prodynorphin mRNA expression is restricted to the periventricular region of the ventral spinal cord. Little mu or delta receptor mRNA expression was detected in any regions of neuronal proliferation prior to birth. However, kappa receptor mRNA is widely expressed in hindbrain germinal zones during the 3rd week of gestation. Our present findings support the hypothesis that endogenous opioids may regulate proliferation of both neuronal and non-neuronal cells during central nervous system development. Given the segregated expression of proenkephalin mRNA in forebrain neuroepithelium and kappa receptor mRNA within hindbrain, different opioid mechanisms may regulate cell division in rostral and caudal brain regions.