Opioid-induced immunosuppression: is it centrally mediated or peripherally mediated?

Biochem Pharmacol. 2003 Jun 1;65(11):1761-6. doi: 10.1016/s0006-2952(03)00085-6.


Opioid compounds are commonly used pain medications. However, their administration is associated with a number of side-effects. Among them, opioid-induced immunosuppression is a significant medical problem, which is evidenced by a strong association between the use of opioids and exacerbated infections, including AIDS. Research data have demonstrated the effects of opioids to be suppressive on phagocytic, natural killer (NK), B and T cells. However, these immunosuppressive effects may be mediated by mechanisms different from those for antinociceptive actions. This article reviews possible central and peripheral mechanisms of opioid-induced immunosuppression. To the extent that peripherally mediated immunosuppressive effects play a significant role in opioid-induced immunosuppression, novel peripheral opioid antagonists may have a therapeutic role in attenuating opioid-induced immunosuppression without affecting analgesia.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Analgesics, Opioid / adverse effects
  • Forecasting
  • Immunosuppression*
  • Narcotics / adverse effects*


  • Analgesics, Opioid
  • Narcotics