In vivo characterization of the opioid antagonist nalmefene in mice

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The current study assessed the in vivo antagonist properties of nalmefene using procedures previously used to characterize the opioid antagonists naloxone, naltrexone, 6β-naltrexol and nalbuphine.

Main methods

ICR mice were used to generate antagonist dose–response curves with intraperitoneal (i.p.) nalmefene against fixed A90 doses of morphine in models of morphine-stimulated hyperlocomotion and antinociception. Additional dose–response curves for antagonist precipitated opioid withdrawal were run in mice treated acutely (100 mg/kg, s.c., −4 h) or chronically (75 mg pellet, s.c., −72 h) with morphine. Comparisons were made between antagonist potency and degree of precipitated withdrawal.

Key findings

Nalmefene produced dose- and time-related antagonism of morphine-induced increases in locomotor activity with a calculated ID50 (and 95% confidence interval) of 0.014 (0.007–0.027)mg/kg. Nalmefene produced rapid reversal of morphine-induced locomotor activity (5.1 min for 50% reduction in morphine effect). A 0.32 mg/kg dose of nalmefene produced blockade of morphine-induced antinociception in the 55 °C tail-flick test that lasted approximately 2 h. Nalmefene was able to potently precipitate withdrawal in mice treated acutely or chronically with morphine.


These results demonstrate that nalmefene is similar to naloxone and naltrexone with respect to its in vivo pharmacology in mice. Specifically, nalmefene produces potent antagonism of morphine agonist effects while precipitating severe withdrawal. The compound has a slower onset and longer duration of action compared to naloxone and naltrexone. The data allows for a more complete preclinical comparison of nalmefene against other opioid antagonists including the putative opioid neutral antagonist 6β-naltrexol.

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