Previous studies in rats have shown that spinal morphine loses potency and efficacy to suppress an acute nociceptive stimulus applied to the tail or the paw following injury to peripheral nerves by tight ligation of the L5/L6 spinal nerves. Additionally, intrathecal (i.th.) morphine is ineffective in suppressing tactile allodynia at fully antinociceptive doses in these animals. The molecular basis for this loss of morphine potency and efficacy in nerve injury states is not known. One possible explanation for this phenomenon is a generalized, multi-segmental loss of opioid mu (μ) receptors in the dorsal horn of the spinal cord after nerve injury. This hypothesis was tested here by determining whether nerve injury produces (a) a decrease in μ receptors in the lumbar spinal cord; (b) a decrease in the affinity of ligand-receptor interaction, (c) a decrease in the fraction of high-affinity state of the μ receptors and (d) a reduced ability of morphine to activate G-proteins via μ receptors. Lumbar spinal cord tissues were examined 7 days after the nerve injury, a time when stable allodynia was observed. At this point, no differences were observed in the receptor density or affinity of [3H]DAMGO (μ selective agonist) or [3H]CTAP (μ selective antagonist) in the dorsal quadrant of lumbar spinal cord ipsilateral to nerve injury. Additionally, no change in morphine's potency and efficacy in activating G- proteins was observed. In contrast, staining for μ opioid receptors using μ-selective antibodies revealed a discrete loss of μ opioid receptors localized ipsilateral to the nerve injury and specific for sections taken at the L6 level. At these spinal segments, μ opioid receptors were decreased in laminae I and II. The data indicate that the loss of μ opioid receptors are highly localized and may contribute to the loss of morphine activity involving input at these spinal segments (e.g., foot-flick response). On the other hand, the lack of a generalized loss of opioid μ receptors across spinal segments makes it unlikely that this is the primary cause for the loss of potency and efficacy of μ opioids to suppress multi-segmental reflexes, such as the tail-flick response.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
This work was supported by UPHS grants from the NIDA (F.P. and R.E.). F.P. is the recipient of a Research Scientist Development Award (K02 DA00185) from the NIDA. The authors thank the National Institute on Drug Abuse for the gift of and Dr. Kimberly Mayfield for her technical assistance.
Copyright 2015 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.
- Mu opioid receptor
- Neuropathic pain