Small doses of morphine can enhance NK cell cytotoxicity in pigs

Int Immunopharmacol. 2009 Mar;9(3):277-83. doi: 10.1016/j.intimp.2008.11.006. Epub 2008 Dec 4.


The effect of small and moderate doses of morphine (MF) on NK cell lytic activity (cytotoxicity, NKCC) ((51)Cr release test) and the number of circulating large granular lymphocytes (LGL) was evaluated in i.v. catheterized Pietrain crossbred pigs. Simultaneously, plasma cortisol (COR) (RIA method) was measured. Blood samples were collected 15, 60, 120, 180, and 240 min after i.v. injections of 0.5, 1.0 and 5.0 mg/kg of MF alone or MF pretreated with naloxone (NX, 1.0 mg/kg, i.v., 15 min before MF). It was found that MF induced dose- and time-dependent changes of NKCC. MF in a dose of 0.5 mg/kg evoked 4-fold increase in NKCC (in comparison to saline) without changes in the number of LGL/NK cells. Higher MF doses (1.0, 5.0 mg/kg) induced an early increase (up to 300Delta% and 29Delta%, respectively) followed by a decrease in cytotoxicity (to -76Delta% after 5.0 mg/kg), and in LGL number (-36Delta% after 5.0 mg/kg). These effects were concomitant with a marked rise in plasma COR (up to 234Delta% after 0.5 mg/kg and 567Delta% after 5.0 mg/kg of MF). NX pretreatment blocked all the changes in cytotoxicity but not in the LGL cell number and COR concentrations. The results indicate that MF, besides having well known immunosuppressive effects, can also enhance NKCC through the opioid receptors-dependent manner. The enhancement of cytotoxicity appears as a purely functional change independent of the recirculation of NK cells which occurs despite the high plasma concentrations of COR.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Line
  • Cytotoxicity, Immunologic / drug effects*
  • Cytotoxicity, Immunologic / immunology
  • Granulocytes / drug effects
  • Granulocytes / immunology
  • Hydrocortisone / blood
  • Killer Cells, Natural / drug effects*
  • Killer Cells, Natural / immunology
  • Male
  • Morphine / pharmacology*
  • Naloxone / pharmacology
  • Swine


  • Naloxone
  • Morphine
  • Hydrocortisone