Opioids heal ischemic wounds in the rat

Tasneem Poonawala, Brett K. Levay-Young, Robert P Hebbel, Kalpna Gupta

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

80 Scopus citations


Opioids are sometimes used to treat pain in ulcerative wounds, and it is speculated that pain interferes with the healing process. Because the direct effect of opioids on this process remains unknown, we examined the effect of topically applied opioids on the healing of open ischemic wounds in rats. Topically applied opioids hastened wound closure, particularly in the first 4 days when no healing was initiated in phosphate buffered saline solution-treated wounds. After 1 week of application, fentanyl, hydromorphone, and morphine resulted in 66%, 55%, and 42% wound closure, respectively, as compared to only 15% in control wounds. Opioid-induced healing was accompanied by a 1.5- to 2.5-fold increase in nuclear density in the granulation tissue and 45-87% increase in angiogenesis as compared to phosphate buffered saline solution-treated wounds. Fentanyl showed significantly improved healing compared to morphine and hydromorphone (p<0.05, fentanyl vs. others). Fentanyl-induced healing was inhibited by the opioid receptor antagonist naloxone, suggesting that peripheral opioid receptor(s) mediate the healing process. Opioids accelerate healing by up-regulating both endothelial and inducible nitric oxide synthase and the vascular endothelial-derived growth factor receptor Flk1 in the wounds. We envision that opioids can be used topically to accelerate wound healing in diverse clinical conditions ranging from surgical incisions to nonhealing ischemic ulcers in pathophysiological conditions and in hospice patients.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)165-174
Number of pages10
JournalWound Repair and Regeneration
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 2005

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