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Comparative Study
, 111 (1-2), 38-50

The Functional Expression of Mu Opioid Receptors on Sensory Neurons Is Developmentally Regulated; Morphine Analgesia Is Less Selective in the Neonate

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Comparative Study

The Functional Expression of Mu Opioid Receptors on Sensory Neurons Is Developmentally Regulated; Morphine Analgesia Is Less Selective in the Neonate

Reema Nandi et al. Pain.

Abstract

Opioid requirements in neonatal patients are reported to be lower than older infants and this may be a reflection of the developmental regulation of opioid receptors. In this study we have investigated the postnatal regulation of Mu opioid receptor (MOR) function in both rat lumbar dorsal root ganglion (DRG) cultures and behavioural mechanical and thermal reflex tests in rat pups. Immunostaining with MOR and selective neurofilament (NF200) antibodies was combined with calcium imaging of MOR function in cultured neonatal and adult rat dorsal root ganglion cells. Calcium imaging showed that a significantly greater number of neonatal DRG neurons expressed functional MOR compared to adult (56.5+/-3.4 versus 39.9+/-1.5%, n=8, mean+/-SEM, P<0.001). This expression is confined to the large, neurofilament positive sensory neurons, while expression in small, nociceptive, neurofilament negative neurons remains unchanged. Sensory threshold testing in rat pups showed that the analgesic potency of systemic morphine to mechanical stimulation is significantly greater in the neonate and declines with postnatal age. Morphine analgesic potency in thermal nociceptive tests did not change with postnatal age. These experiments show that the MOR expressed on large DRG neurons in neonates are functional and are subject to postnatal developmental regulation. This changing functional receptor profile is consistent with greater morphine potency in mechanical, but not thermal, sensory tests in young animals. These results have important clinical implications for the use of morphine in neonates and provide a possible explanation for the differences in morphine requirements observed in the youngest patients.

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