Background and purpose: Chronic morphine administration produces tolerance in vivo and attenuation of mu opioid receptor (MOR)-mediated G-protein activation measured in vitro, but the relationship between these adaptations is not clear. The present study examined MOR-mediated G-protein activation in the CNS of mice with different levels of morphine tolerance.
Experimental approach: Mice were implanted with morphine pellets, with or without supplemental morphine injections, to induce differing levels of tolerance as determined by a range of MOR-mediated behaviours. MOR function was measured using agonist-stimulated [(35)S]guanylyl-5'-O-(gamma-thio)-triphosphate ([(35)S]GTPgammaS) and receptor binding throughout the CNS.
Key results: Morphine pellet implantation produced 6-12-fold tolerance in antinociceptive assays, hypothermia and Straub tail, as measured by the ratio of morphine ED(50) values between morphine-treated and control groups. Pellet implantation plus supplemental injections produced 25-50-fold tolerance in these tests. In morphine pellet-implanted mice, MOR-stimulated [(35)S]GTPgammaS binding was significantly reduced only in the nucleus tractus solitarius (NTS) and spinal cord dorsal horn in tissue sections from morphine pellet-implanted mice. In contrast, MOR-stimulated [(35)S]GTPgammaS binding was significantly decreased in most regions examined in morphine pellet+morphine injected mice, including nucleus accumbens, caudate-putamen, periaqueductal gray, parabrachial nucleus, NTS and spinal cord.
Conclusions and implications: Tolerance and the regional pattern of apparent MOR desensitization were influenced positively by the level of morphine exposure. These results indicate that desensitization of MOR-mediated G-protein activity is more regionally widespread upon induction of high levels of tolerance, suggesting that this response contributes more to high than low levels of tolerance to CNS-mediated effects of morphine.