Analgesic effects of systemic fentanyl on cancer pain are mediated by not only central but also peripheral opioid receptors in mice

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Fentanyl is an opioid commonly prescribed for cancer pain. Using melanoma-bearing mice, we investigated whether peripheral action would contribute to fentanyl analgesia in cancer pain. Intravenous injection of fentanyl inhibited mechanical nociception in healthy mice, which was markedly inhibited by the opioid antagonist naloxone, but not naloxone methiodide, a peripherally acting opioid antagonist. Melanoma-bearing mice showed mechanical allodynia and spontaneous licking, a pain-related behavior, which were suppressed by intravenous and local injections of fentanyl. Both naloxone and naloxone methiodide inhibited the analgesic effect of intravenous fentanyl to the same degree. Electrophysiological analysis showed that melanoma growth increased the spontaneous and mechanical stimuli-evoked activity of the tibial nerve, which were inhibited by intravenous fentanyl. There was a greater expression of μ- opioid receptors in skin with a melanoma mass than in the contralateral normal skin. In addition, we found μ-opioid receptors in cultured melanoma cells. There was no difference between the number of μ-opioid receptors in the dorsal root ganglia and spinal cord of the melanoma-bearing and contralateral skin side. These results suggest that the analgesic effect of systemic fentanyl is produced via central and peripheral μ- opioid receptors in cancer pain, and cancer cells are a key site of peripheral action.

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