An opiate cocktail that reduces morphine tolerance and dependence

Curr Biol. 2005 Jun 7;15(11):1028-33. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2005.04.052.


Morphine is an exceptionally effective analgesic whose utility is compromised by the development of tolerance and dependence to the drug. Morphine analgesia and dependence are mediated by its activity at the mu opioid peptide (MOP) receptor [1]. The MOP receptor is activated not only by morphine, but also by other opiate drugs such as methadone and endogenous opioids such as endorphins. Morphine, however, is a unique opioid agonist ligand because it fails to induce endocytic trafficking of the MOP receptor [2], whereas the endogenous ligands and methadone do facilitate endocytosis [3]. Using the unique pharmacology of the MOP receptor and its proposed existence as an oligomeric structure [4], we designed a pharmacological cocktail that facilitates endocytosis of the MOP receptor in response to morphine. This cocktail consists of morphine and a small dose of methadone. Importantly, this cocktail, while retaining full analgesic potency, does not promote morphine dependence. We further demonstrate that dependence is reduced, at least in part, because endocytosis of the MOP receptor in response to morphine prevents the upregulation of N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptors.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Analysis of Variance
  • Animals
  • Biotin
  • Blotting, Western
  • Cyclic AMP / metabolism
  • Drug Combinations
  • Drug Tolerance / physiology*
  • Endocytosis / drug effects*
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Luciferases
  • Methadone / pharmacology*
  • Morphine / pharmacology*
  • Neurons / metabolism
  • Rats
  • Receptors, N-Methyl-D-Aspartate / metabolism
  • Receptors, Opioid, mu / metabolism*
  • Substance-Related Disorders / prevention & control*


  • Drug Combinations
  • Receptors, N-Methyl-D-Aspartate
  • Receptors, Opioid, mu
  • Biotin
  • Morphine
  • Cyclic AMP
  • Luciferases
  • Methadone