The presence and concentrations of each of the three subtypes of opioid receptors (mu, kappa, and delta) has been studied in the accessory optic nuclei (dorsal, lateral, and medial terminal nuclei and the interstitial nucleus of the superior fasciculus, posterior fibers: DTN, LTN, MTN, and inSFp) in normal young rats with radioligands directed towards each opioid receptor subtype. The changes in mu opioid receptors have also been investigated in monocularly enucleated rats in which one eye was removed and the rats sacrificed at postoperative day (PO) 2, 3, 5, 7, 14, and 30. As the MTN is the only accessory optic nucleus of the rat large enough for semiquantitative evaluation, the mu receptor population of the MTN has been subjected to optical microdensitometric analysis.
All four of the accessory optic nuclei (AOS nuclei) are found to contain exceedingly high levels of mu opioid receptor binding with the selective radioligand [3H]-[D-Ala, MePhe4, Gly-ol5] (DAGO), low levels of kappa opioid receptor binding using the radioligand [3H]-[ethylketocyclazocine] (EKC) together with the competing agents [D-Pro4]-morphiceptin and [D-Ser2, Thr6]-Leu-enkephalin, and an absence of delta opioid receptor binding with the radioligand [3H]-[D-A1a2, D-Leu5]-enkephalin (DADLE) combined with the competing agent [D-Pro4]-morphiceptin. Monocular enucleation, as studied on the mu opioid receptor population with this experimental approach, results in virtually a complete loss of mu opioid receptors throughout all four of the contralaterally located AOS nuclei, including both dorsal and ventral subdivisions of the medial terminal nucleus (MTNd, v). Kappa and delta receptors are very few (kappa receptors) or are lacking (delta receptors) in the AOS nuclei, and for this reason, the effects of monocular enucleation on these two opioid receptor subtypes have not been investigated. Monocular enucleation also produces a significant lowering in mu receptor binding in other primary optic nuclei (the lateral geniculate nuclei, nucleus of the optic tract, and superficial layers of the superior colliculus) and in the pars principalis of the medial geniculate nucleus (description of changes in mu receptors in non-accessory optic primary optic nuclei will be considered elsewhere).
Microdensitometric study of the MTNd, v shows that the decreased binding of mu receptors in this nucleus is barely detectable (about 6%) at PO2 and rises to 6–15% at PO3. At PO5 receptor loss reaches approximately 62%, whereas at PO7 it is about 81% complete. At PO14 and PO30, the mu receptor loss is nearly complete at around 93%. Mu receptor loss involves all of the AOS nuclei contralateral, but none ipsilateral, to ocular enucleation, an observation entirely consistent with the overwhelmingly crossed (about 97%) nature of the retinofugal projection to the rat accessory optic nuclei. These opioid receptors represent a prominent feature in the AOS and other primary optic nuclei of the rat. Their role in visuomotor control remains uncertain but probably involves the fine-tuning of information concerned with compensatory eye movements.