Chronic morphine treatment selectively suppresses macrophage colony formation in bone marrow

Sabita Roy, Sundaram Ramakrishnan, Horace H Loh, Nancy M. Lee

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66 Scopus citations


Opioids have been shown to have diverse effects on the immune system, both in vivo and in vitro, but their interactions on immature progenitor cells have been little studied. We have examined the effects of chronic morphine treatment of mice on colony formation by bone marrow cells in vitro. Bone marrow cells from mice implanted with morphine pellets for 72 h showed a 65% decrease in their response to macrophage colony stimulating factor (M-CSF). In contrast, chronic morphine treatment had no effect on the response of bone marrow cells to granulocyte/macrophage colony stimulating factor (GM-CSF). Removal of the morphine pellets from the mice resulted in a time-dependent reversal of the inhibition of macrophage colony formation, and the inhibition was completely blocked by simultaneous administration of naloxone and morphine pellets to the mice. No inhibition of colony formation was observed in bone marrow cells from mice treated with a single acute dose of morphine. Incubation of bone marrow cells from untreated mice for 7 days with in vitro morphine concentrations as low as 25 μM also reduced macrophage colony formation, and the opioid peptide β-endorphin was even more potent, significantly reducing macrophage colony formation at concentrations as low as 0.25 μM. In agreement with the in vivo effects, neither opioid in vitro had a significant effect on granuiocyte/macrophage colony formation. These results suggest that opioids may significantly alter the maturation of immune cells, which could result in potent effects on overall immune competence.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)359-363
Number of pages5
JournalEuropean Journal of Pharmacology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Apr 3 1991

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported hy NIDA Research Grants DA06011 (N.M.L.) and DA00564 (H.H.L.). and by Research Scientist Awards DA-00020 (N.M.L.) and DA-70554 (H.‘-LL.).


  • Bone marrow
  • Colony stimulating factor
  • Morphine
  • β-Endorphin


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