Direct evidence for the involvement of the mesolimbic kappa-opioid system in the morphine-induced rewarding effect under an inflammatory pain-like state

Neuropsychopharmacology. 2005 Jan;30(1):111-8. doi: 10.1038/sj.npp.1300527.


Recent clinical studies have demonstrated that when morphine is used to control pain in cancer patients, psychological dependence is not a major concern. The present study was undertaken to ascertain the modulation of psychological dependence on morphine under a chronic pain-like state in rats. The prototypical mu-opioid receptor agonist morphine (8 mg/kg, i.p.) induced a dose-dependent place preference. In the present study, we found that an inflammatory pain-like state following formalin injection significantly suppressed the morphine-induced rewarding effect. This effect was almost reversed by s.c. pretreatment with the kappa-opioid receptor antagonist nor-binaltorphimine (nor-BNI, 5 mg/kg). Furthermore, the morphine-induced increase in dopamine (DA) turnover in the limbic forebrain was significantly inhibited by treatment with formalin. This inhibition was also suppressed by pretreatment with nor-BNI. In addition, in vivo microdialysis studies clearly showed that the morphine-induced increase in the extracellular levels of DA and its metabolites, 3,4-dihydroxyphenylacetic acid and homovanillic acid, in the nucleus accumbens (N.Acc.) was significantly decreased in rats that had been pretreated with formalin. This effect was in turn reversed by the microinjection of a specific dynorphin A antibody into the N.Acc. These findings suggest that the inflammatory pain-like state induced by formalin injection may have caused a sustained activation of the kappa-opioidergic system within the N.Acc., resulting in suppression of the morphine-induced rewarding effect in rats. The present study provides further evidence of the clinical usefulness of morphine in patients suffering from severe pain.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain Chemistry / drug effects
  • Conditioning, Operant / drug effects
  • Dopamine / metabolism
  • Dynorphins / pharmacology
  • Edema / chemically induced
  • Edema / pathology
  • Foot / pathology
  • Formaldehyde
  • Inflammation / chemically induced
  • Inflammation / physiopathology*
  • Limbic System / drug effects
  • Limbic System / metabolism
  • Limbic System / physiology*
  • Male
  • Microdialysis
  • Microinjections
  • Morphine / pharmacology*
  • Naltrexone / analogs & derivatives*
  • Naltrexone / pharmacology
  • Narcotic Antagonists / pharmacology
  • Narcotics / pharmacology*
  • Pain / chemically induced
  • Pain / physiopathology*
  • Pain Measurement / drug effects
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Receptors, Opioid, kappa / physiology*
  • Reward*


  • Narcotic Antagonists
  • Narcotics
  • Receptors, Opioid, kappa
  • Formaldehyde
  • norbinaltorphimine
  • Naltrexone
  • Dynorphins
  • Morphine
  • Dopamine