Opiates are among the most prescribed drugs for pain management. However, morphine use or abuse results in significant gut bacterial translocation and predisposes patients to serious infections with gut origin. The mechanism underlying this defect is still unknown. In this report, we investigated the mechanisms underlying compromised gut immune function and bacterial translocation following morphine treatment. We demonstrate significant bacterial translocation to mesenteric lymph node (MLN) and liver following morphine treatment in wild-type (WT) animals that was dramatically and significantly attenuated in Toll-like receptor (TLR2 and 4) knockout mice. We further observed significant disruption of tight junction protein organization only in the ileum but not in the colon of morphine treated WT animals. Inhibition of myosin light chain kinase (MLCK) blocked the effects of both morphine and TLR ligands, suggesting the role of MLCK in tight junction modulation by TLR. This study conclusively demonstrates that morphine induced gut epithelial barrier dysfunction and subsequent bacteria translocation are mediated by TLR signaling and thus TLRs can be exploited as potential therapeutic targets for alleviating infections and even sepsis in morphine-using or abusing populations.
Copyright 2013 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.