Chronic administration of morphine using mini-osmotic pumps affects spatial memory in the male rat

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The use of opioid analgesics to treat non-cancer pain has increased over the years. Many chronic pain patients suffer from numerous adverse effects, such as reduced quality of life, development of dependence, and cognitive impairments. Cognitive processes are regulated by several systems, one of which involves growth hormone (GH) and its secondary mediator insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1), but also glutamatergic transmission, including receptors such as the N-methyl-d-aspartate (NMDA)-receptor complex. In the laboratory, repeated injections are commonly used to establish animal models of long-term or chronic drug exposure. However, in the present study, we aimed to mimic a more human dose regimen using constant drug delivery provided by mini-osmotic pumps implanted subcutaneously in male Sprague Dawley rats. After developing opioid tolerance the cognitive function of rats was studied. Spatial learning and memory capabilities were evaluated using the rat Morris water maze (MWM). Moreover, gene expression related to the GH/IGF-1-axis and the NMDA-receptor system was analyzed using quantitative PCR (qPCR) and plasma levels of IGF-1 were assessed using the ELISA technique. Our results demonstrate that rats exposed to morphine for 27days display memory impairments in the MWM probe trial. However, the behavioral effects of chronic morphine treatment were not accompanied by any significant differences in terms of mRNA expression or IGF-1 plasma concentration. The animal model used in this study provides a simple and suitable way to investigate the behavioral and neurochemical effects of chronic opioid treatment similar to the exposure seen in human pain patients.HIGHLIGHTSMemory function is for the first time studied in rats administered morphine in mini-osmotic pumps.Rats exposed to morphine for 27 days display partial memory impairments when tested in the MWM.Impaired memory in morphine treated rats correlate with low expression of GluN2b in frontal cortex.

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