Background: N-Methyl-D-aspartate receptor antagonists reverse hyperalgesia during morphine infusion in male mice only. Because the melanocortin-1 receptor can act as a female-specific counterpart to N-methyl-D-aspartate receptors in kappa-opioid analgesic mechanisms, the authors assessed the contribution of melanocortin-1 receptors to the sex-specific mechanisms underlying morphine hyperalgesia.
Methods: The tail-withdrawal test was used to compare the nociceptive responses of male and female C57BL/6J (B6) mice with those of C57BL/6J-Mc(1r(e/e)) mice, spontaneous mutants of the B6 background lacking functional melanocortin-1 receptors, during continuous morphine infusion (1.6 and 40.0 mgkg(-1) . 24 h(-1)). Separate groups of hyperalgesic B6 and outbred CD-1 mice were injected with MK-801 or MSG606, selective N-methyl-D-aspartate and melanocortin-1 receptor antagonists, respectively.
Results: Morphine infusion (40.0 mg . kg(-1) . 24 h(-1)) reduced baseline withdrawal latencies by 45-55% in B6 mice of both sexes, indicating hyperalgesia; this increased nociception was manifest in male e/e mice only. Although MK-801 reversed hyperalgesia in male mice only, increasing latencies by 72%, MSG606 increased latencies by approximately 60% exclusively in females. A lower morphine infusion dose (1.6 mg . kg(-1) . 24 h(-1)) reduced baseline withdrawal latencies by 45-52% in B6 and e/e mice of both sexes, which was reversed by MK-801, but not MSG606, in both male and female B6 mice.
Conclusions: The data indicate the sex-specific mediation of high-dose morphine-induced hyperalgesia by N-methyl-d-aspartate and melanocortin-1 receptors in male and female mice, respectively, suggesting a broader relevance of this known sexual dimorphism. The data further indicate that the neural substrates contributing to hyperalgesia are morphine dose-dependent.