Morphine is commonly used for pain management in preterm neonates. The aims of this study were to compare published models of neonatal pharmacokinetics of morphine and its metabolites with a new dataset, and to combine the characteristics of the best predictive models to design a meta-model for morphine and its metabolites in preterm neonates. Moreover, the concentration-analgesia relationship for morphine in this clinical setting was also investigated.
A population of 30 preterm neonates (gestational age: 23–32 weeks) received a loading dose of morphine (50–100 μg/kg), followed by a continuous infusion (5–10 μg/kg/h) until analgesia was no longer required. Pain was assessed using the Premature Infant Pain Profile. Five published population models were compared using numerical and graphical tests of goodness-of-fit and predictive performance. Population modelling was conducted using NONMEM® and the $PRIOR subroutine to describe the time-course of plasma concentrations of morphine, morphine-3-glucuronide, and morphine-6-glucuronide, and the concentration-analgesia relationship for morphine.
No published model adequately described morphine concentrations in this new dataset. Previously published population pharmacokinetic models of morphine, morphine-3-glucuronide, and morphine-6-glucuronide were combined into a meta-model. The meta-model provided an adequate description of the time-course of morphine and the concentrations of its metabolites in preterm neonates. Allometric weight scaling was applied to all clearance and volume terms. Maturation of morphine clearance was described as a function of postmenstrual age, while maturation of metabolite elimination was described as a function of postnatal age. A clear relationship between morphine concentrations and pain score was not established.