Mu-opioid receptors in nociceptive afferents produce a sustained suppression of hyperalgesia in chronic pain

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The latent sensitization model of chronic pain reveals that recovery from some types of long-term hyperalgesia is an altered state in which nociceptive sensitization persists but is suppressed by the ongoing activity of analgesic receptors such as μ-opioid receptors (MORs). To determine whether these MORs are the ones present in nociceptive afferents, we bred mice expressing Cre-recombinase under the Nav1.8 channel promoter (Nav1.8cre) with MOR-floxed mice (flMOR). These Nav1.8cre/flMOR mice had reduced MOR expression in primary afferents, as revealed by quantitative PCR, in situ hybridization, and immunofluorescence colocalization with the neuropeptide calcitonin gene-related peptide. We then studied the recovery from chronic pain of these mice and their flMOR littermates. When Nav1.8cre/flMOR mice were injected in the paw with complete Freund adjuvant they developed mechanical hyperalgesia that persisted for more than 2 months, whereas the responses of flMOR mice returned to baseline after 3 weeks. We then used the inverse agonist naltrexone to assess ongoing MOR activity. Naltrexone produced a robust reinstatement of hyperalgesia in control flMOR mice, but produced no effect in the Nav1.8/flMOR males and a weak reinstatement of hyperalgesia in Nav1.8/flMOR females. Naltrexone also reinstated swelling of the hind paw in flMOR mice and female Nav1.8cre/flMOR mice, but not male Nav1.8cre/flMOR mice. The MOR agonist DAMGO inhibited substance P release in flMOR mice but not Nav1.8cre/flMOR mice, demonstrating a loss of MOR function at the central terminals of primary afferents. We conclude that MORs in nociceptive afferents mediate an ongoing suppression of hyperalgesia to produce remission from chronic pain.

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