Reduced Number, G Protein Coupling, and Antinociceptive Efficacy of Spinal Mu-Opioid Receptors in Diabetic Rats Are Reversed by Nerve Growth Factor


      This study investigated putative mechanisms of impaired spinal opioid antinociception such as a downregulation of mu-opioid receptor (MOR) number, coupling, and efficacy in rats with advanced (12 weeks) streptozotocin (STZ)-induced diabetes. Intravenous injection of STZ (45 mg/kg) in Wistar rats led to selective degeneration of insulin-producing pancreatic ß-cells, elevated blood glucose, and mechanical hyperalgesia. In these animals, dose-dependent and naloxone-reversible intrathecal fentanyl antinociception was significantly impaired and associated with a loss in MOR immunoreactivity of calcitonin gene-related peptide–immunoreactive (CGRP-IR) sensory nerve terminals, membrane-bound MOR binding sites, and MOR-stimulated G protein coupling within the dorsal horn of the spinal cord. Intrathecal delivery of nerve growth factor (NGF) in diabetic animals normalized spinal MOR number and G protein coupling and rescued spinal fentanyl-induced antinociception. These findings identify for the first time a loss in functional MOR on central terminals of sensory neurons as a contributing factor for the impaired spinal opioid responsiveness during advanced STZ-induced diabetes that can be reversed by NGF. Moreover, they support growing evidence of a distinct regulation of opioid responsiveness during various painful states of disease (eg, arthritis, cancer, neuropathy) and may give novel therapeutic incentives.


      In diabetic neuropathy a loss in sensory neuron mu-opioid receptor number and coupling contributes to impaired spinal opioid antinociception that can be reversed by NGF. These findings support growing evidence of a distinct regulation of opioid responsiveness during various painful diseases and may give novel therapeutic incentives.

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