Background: Neuropathic pain is associated with several sensory abnormalities, including allodynia as well as spontaneous pain. Opioid intake in neuropathic pain patients is motivated by alleviation of both pain and allodynia. However, laboratory animal studies rely almost exclusively on reflexive withdrawal measures of allodynia. The authors examined the pharmacology of self-regulated intake of opioids in rats with or without nerve injury and compared the rate of drug intake to reversal of allodynia.
Methods: Rats were implanted with intravenous catheters, and the L5 and L6 spinal nerves were ligated in half of these animals. Rats were then trained to self-administer a commonly abused opioid (heroin) and commonly prescribed opioids (morphine, fentanyl, hydromorphone, and methadone). In addition, rats trained to self-administer heroin were given either clonidine or adenosine spinally before self-administration sessions to assess opioid-sparing effects.
Results: Nerve injury significantly decreased the reinforcing effects of low doses of opioids, and only doses of each opioid that reduced mechanical hypersensitivity maintained self-administration after spinal nerve ligation. The rate of drug consumption was correlated with the duration of the antiallodynic effect for each dose of opioid. Intrathecal administration of clonidine or adenosine reversed mechanical hypersensitivity, but only clonidine reduced heroin self-administration in rats with spinal nerve ligation.
Conclusion: Opioid self-administration is significantly altered by nerve injury, with rate of drug intake being correlated with reversal of allodynia. Intrathecal clonidine, but not adenosine, produces opioid-sparing effects in self-administering rats. The neurobiologic mechanisms that regulate opioid consumption in rats therefore seem to be altered after nerve injury.