Background: P-glycoprotein is a transmembrane protein expressed by multiple mammalian cell types, including the endothelial cells that comprise the blood-brain-barrier. P-glycoprotein functions to actively pump a diverse array of xenobiotics out of the cells in which it is expressed. The purpose of this study was to determine if P-glycoprotein alters the analgesic efficacy of clinically useful opioids.
Methods: Using a standard hot-plate method, the magnitude and duration of analgesia from morphine, morphine-6-glucuronide, methadone, meperidine, and fentanyl were assessed in wild-type Friends virus B (FVB) mice and in FVB mice lacking P-glycoprotein [mdr1a/b(-/-)]. Analgesia was expressed as the percent maximal possible effect (%MPE) over time, and these data were used to calculate the area under the analgesia versus time curves (AUC) for all opioids studied. In addition, the effect of a P-glycoprotein inhibitor (cyclosporine, 100 mg/kg) on morphine analgesia in both wild-type and mdr knockout mice was also determined.
Results: Morphine induced greater analgesia in knockout mice compared with wild-type mice (AUC 6,450 %MPE min vs. 1,610 %MPE min at 3 mg/kg), and morphine brain concentrations were greater in knockout mice. Analgesia was also greater in knockout mice treated with methadone and fentanyl but not meperidine or morphine-6-glucuronide. Cyclosporine pretreatment markedly increased morphine analgesia in wild-type mice but had no effect in knockout mice.
Conclusions: These results suggest that P-glycoprotein acts to limit the entry of some opiates into the brain and that acute administration of P-glycoprotein inhibitors can increase the sensitivity to these opiates.