Tolerance to morphine analgesia: Evidence for stimulus intensity as a key factor and complete reversal by a glycine site-specific NMDA antagonist

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N-methyl-d-aspartate (NMDA) receptors are widely involved in opioid tolerance. However, it is less clear whether NMDA receptor antagonists reverse already-established tolerance and whether the intensity of the nociceptive stimulus influences morphine tolerance. Three days after implantation of morphine or control pellets the effects of i.v. morphine and pre-administration of saline or (+)-HA966 (a glycine site-specific NMDA receptor antagonist), were studied on the C-fibre reflex elicited by a wide range of stimulus intensities. Morphine both increased the threshold and decreased the slope of the recruitment curve in the “non-tolerant” group of animals. In the “morphine-tolerant” group, the threshold did not change but the gain of the stimulus-response curve decreased. The expression of tolerance to morphine depended on the intensity of the stimulus, being maximal when threshold stimulus intensities were used but considerably less with supra-threshold stimulation. As expected, a single treatment with (+)-HA966, potentiated morphine antinociception in “non-tolerant” rats. However, in “morphine-tolerant” rats (+)-HA966 reversed established morphine tolerance and increased the antinociceptive effects of morphine. These results suggest that (+)-HA966 interfered with expression of morphine tolerance, and offered an encouraging therapeutic approach for pain management in opioid abusers.

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