Sex Differences in Morphine-induced Ventilatory Depression Reside within the Peripheral Chemoreflex Loop

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This study gathers information in humans on the sites of sex-related differences in ventilatory depression caused by the [micro sign]-opioid receptor agonist morphine.


Experiments were performed in healthy young men (n = 9) and women (n = 7). Dynamic ventilatory responses to square-wave changes in end-tidal carbon dioxide tension (7.5–15 mmHg) and step decreases in end-tidal oxygen tension (step from 110 to 50 mmHg, duration of hypoxia 15 min) were obtained before and during morphine infusion (intravenous bolus dose 100 [micro sign]g/kg, followed by 30 [micro sign]g [middle dot] kg-1 [middle dot] h-1). Each hypercapnic response was separated into a fast peripheral and slow central component, which yield central (Gc) and peripheral (Gp) carbon dioxide sensitivities. Values are mean +/- SD.


In carbon dioxide studies in men, morphine reduced Gc from 1.61 +/- 0.33 to 1.23 +/- 0.12 l [middle dot] mmHg-1 (P < 0.05) without affecting Gp (control, 0.41 +/- 0.16 and morphine, 0.49 +/- 0.12 l [middle dot] [middle dot] min-1 [middle dot] mmHg-1, not significant). In carbon dioxide studies in women, morphine reduced Gc, from 1.51 +/- 0.74 to 1.17 +/- 0.52 l [middle dot] min-1 [middle dot] mmHg-1 (P < 0.05), and Gp, from 0.54 +/- 0.19 to 0.39 +/- 0.22 l [middle dot] min-1 [middle dot] mmHg-1 (P < 0.05). Morphine-induced changes in Gc were equal in men and women; changes in Gp were greater in women. In hypoxic studies, morphine depressed the hyperventilatory response at the initiation of hypoxia more in women than in men (0.54 +/- 0.23 vs. 0.26 +/- 0.34 l [middle dot] min-1 [middle dot] %-1, respectively; P < 0.05). The ventilatory response to sustained hypoxia (i.e., 15 min) did not differ between men and women.


The data indicate the existence of sex differences in morphine-induced depression of responses mediated via the peripheral chemoreflex pathway, with more depression in women, but not of responses mediated via the central chemoreflex pathway. In men and women, morphine did not change the translation of the initial hyperventilatory response to short-term hypoxia into the secondary decrease in inspired minute ventilation (Vi) caused by sustained hypoxia.

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