Endogenous opioid systems participate in regulating the development of the nervous system. Opioid antagonists like naltrexone (NTX) perturb the relationship between endogenous opioids and opioid receptors quite effectively and reveal the function(s) of endogenous opioid systems during neuro-ontogeny. In this study, the effects of NTX, as well as the repercussions of modulation of endogenous opioid systems during critical stages of neural ontogeny, have been examined at the electron microscopic level of resolution in infant (10 day) and weanling (21 day) rats. Preweaning rats were subjected to complete (50 mg/kg NTX) or intermittent (l mg/kg NTX) daily receptor blockade. Extensive ultrastructural examinations were conducted on the external germinal (granule), molecular, Purkinje, internal granule, and medullary layers of the cerebellar cortex. The NTX groups had striking similarities in morphology to that of controls at postnatal days 10 and 21. These results support the hypothesis that endogenous opioid systems act as trophic factors as they regulate growth; their effects on cell growth and survival, however, do not alter the basic ultrastructural morphology of the cells. Moreover, these data further strengthen the validity of paradigms utilizing opioid antagonists to explore the relationship of endogenous opioid-opioid receptor interactions and neural morphogenesis.
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