Opioids are used to manage all types of pain including acute, cancer, chronic neuropathic and inflammatory pain. Unfortunately, opioid-related adverse effects such as respiratory depression, tolerance, physical dependence and addiction have led to an underutilization of these compounds for adequate pain relief. One strategy to improve the therapeutic utility of opioids is to co-administer them with other analgesic agents such as agonists acting at a2-adrenergic receptors (α2ARs). Analgesics acting at α2ARs and opioid receptors (ORs) frequently synergize when co-administered in vivo. Multimodal analgesic techniques offer advantages over single drug treatments as synergistic combination therapies produce analgesia at lower doses, thus reducing undesired side effects. This inference presumes, however, that the synergistic interaction is limited to the analgesic effects. In order to test this hypothesis, we examined the effects of α2AR/OR combination therapy in acute antinociception and in the often-undesired side effects of sedation and cardiovascular depression in awake unrestrained mice. Morphine, clonidine or their combination was administered by spinal or systemic injection in awake mice. Antinociception was determined using the warm water tail flick assay (52.5°C). Sedation/motor impairment was evaluated using the accelerating rotarod assay and cardiovascular function was monitored by pulse oximetry. Data were converted to percent maximum possible effect and isobolographic analysis was performed to determine if an interaction was subadditive, additive or synergistic. Synergistic interactions between morphine and clonidine were observed in the antinociceptive but not in the sedative/motor or cardiovascular effects. As a result, the therapeutic window was improved ∼200-fold and antinociception was achieved at non-sedating doses with little to no cardiovascular depression. In addition, combination therapy resulted in greater maximum analgesic efficacy over either drug alone. These data support the utility of combination adrenergic/opioid therapy in pain management for antinociceptive efficacy with reduced side-effect liability.
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© 2014 Stone et al.