Chronic Aerobic Exercise: Autoradiographic Assessment of GABA(a) and Mu-opioid Receptor Binding in Adult Rats

Nabeel Rahman

Clinical and Research Institute on Addictions .

Clinical and Research Institute on Addictions.

Undergraduate Student Project


Have you ever wondered what would happen if you put a rat on a treadmill?

Hi, I'm Nabeel Rahman and I'm in my senior year of undergraduate studies at the University at Buffalo, majoring in Biomedical Sciences. I'm very passionate about both exercise and neuroscience, and in my time as a Research Assistant at Dr. Peter Thanos' laboratory at the Clinical and Research Institute on Addictions, I was able to blend these two interests. Our lab performs preclinical research  focusing on the behavioral and biological factors underlying drug addiction. With the guidance of Dr. Thanos, several lab members and I were able to contribute to this feat through the present project.

Substance abuse is a rapidly escalating issue in our society today. Additionally, exercise is becoming increasingly popular as a therapeutic intervention, especially in the realm of substance abuse. Through the use of equipment such as a custom-made motorized rodent treadmill and techniques such as in vitro receptor autoradiography, we aimed to further our understanding of the role that exercise has on the brain.


Exercise has been well established as a therapeutic intervention in the realm of substance use disorders. However, the mechanisms underlying the effects of exercise have not been fully elucidated. The present study thus examined the effects of chronic aerobic exercise on both GABA(a) and mu-opioid receptor levels in the brains of male and female rats. GABA(a) receptor binding, measured by [3H] Flunitrazepam, was increased in the cingulate cortex following exercise, but only in females. Mu-opioid receptor expression, measured by [3H] ([D-Ala2, N-MePhe4, Gly-ol]-enkephalin) (DAMGO), showed no effect of exercise while showing an effect of sex, with increased [3H] DAMGO binding in the brains of sedentary males compared to that of sedentary females. Our findings illustrate that exercise has the potential to alter neurochemistry within the rat brain, thus furthering our understanding of how physical activity exerts its therapeutic effects.

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