Anti-inflammatory properties of the mu opioid receptor support its use in the treatment of colon inflammation

J Clin Invest. 2003 May;111(9):1329-38. doi: 10.1172/JCI16750.


The physiologic role of the mu opioid receptor (MOR) in gut nociception, motility, and secretion is well established. To evaluate whether MOR may also be involved in controlling gut inflammation, we first showed that subcutaneous administration of selective peripheral MOR agonists, named DALDA and DAMGO, significantly reduces inflammation in two experimental models of colitis induced by administration of 2,4,6-trinitrobenzene sulfonic acid (TNBS) or peripheral expansion of CD4(+) T cells in mice. This therapeutic effect was almost completely abolished by concomitant administration of the opioid antagonist naloxone. Evidence of a genetic role for MOR in the control of gut inflammation was provided by showing that MOR-deficient mice were highly susceptible to colon inflammation, with a 50% mortality rate occurring 3 days after TNBS administration. The mechanistic basis of these observations suggests that the anti-inflammatory effects of MOR in the colon are mediated through the regulation of cytokine production and T cell proliferation, two important immunologic events required for the development of colon inflammation in mice and patients with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). These data provide evidence that MOR plays a role in the control of gut inflammation and suggest that MOR agonists might be new therapeutic molecules in IBD.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents, Non-Steroidal / therapeutic use*
  • CD4-Positive T-Lymphocytes / metabolism
  • Colitis / chemically induced
  • Colitis / drug therapy*
  • Colitis / mortality
  • Colitis / pathology
  • Colon / drug effects*
  • Colon / immunology
  • Colon / pathology
  • Cytokines / metabolism
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Enkephalin, Ala(2)-MePhe(4)-Gly(5)- / pharmacology
  • Enkephalin, Ala(2)-MePhe(4)-Gly(5)- / therapeutic use
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Mice, Knockout
  • Mice, SCID
  • Naloxone / pharmacology
  • Narcotic Antagonists / pharmacology
  • Oligopeptides / pharmacology
  • Oligopeptides / therapeutic use
  • Peroxidase / metabolism
  • Receptors, Opioid, mu / agonists*
  • Receptors, Opioid, mu / genetics
  • Receptors, Opioid, mu / physiology*
  • Trinitrobenzenesulfonic Acid / toxicity


  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents, Non-Steroidal
  • Cytokines
  • Narcotic Antagonists
  • Oligopeptides
  • Receptors, Opioid, mu
  • Enkephalin, Ala(2)-MePhe(4)-Gly(5)-
  • tyrosyl-arginyl-phenylalanyl-lysinamide
  • Naloxone
  • Trinitrobenzenesulfonic Acid
  • Peroxidase