Background and purpose: Opioid use and abuse has been linked to significant immunosuppression, which has been attributed, in part, to drug-induced depletion of lymphocytes. We sought to define the mechanisms by which lymphocyte populations are depleted and recover following morphine treatment in mice.
Experimental approach: Mice were implanted with morphine pellets and B- and T-cell subsets in the bone marrow, thymus, spleen and lymph nodes were analysed at various time points. We also examined the effects of morphine on T-cell development using an ex vivo assay.
Key results: The lymphocyte populations most susceptible to morphine-induced depletion were the precursor cells undergoing selection. As the lymphocytes recovered, more lymphocyte precursors proliferated than in control mice. In addition, peripheral T-cells displayed evidence that they had undergone homeostatic proliferation during the recovery phase of the experiments.
Conclusions and implications: The recovery of lymphocytes following morphine-induced depletion occurred in the presence of morphine and via increased proliferation of lymphoid precursors and homeostatic proliferation of T-cells.
© 2011 The Authors. British Journal of Pharmacology © 2011 The British Pharmacological Society.