A failure to normalize biochemical and metabolic insults during morphine withdrawal disrupts synaptic repair in mice transgenic for HIV-gp120

J Neuroimmune Pharmacol. 2011 Dec;6(4):640-9. doi: 10.1007/s11481-011-9289-0. Epub 2011 Jul 12.


Drug abuse in HIV-infected individuals accelerates the onset and progression of HIV-associated neurocognitive disorders (HAND). Opiates are a class of commonly abused drugs that have interactive effects with neurotoxic HIV proteins that facilitate glial dysfunction, neuronal damage and death. While the combined effects of neurotoxic HIV proteins and morphine have been extensively studied in the setting of chronic and acute morphine use, very little in known about the effects of HIV proteins during drug withdrawal. Since opiate withdrawal can induce considerable neuronal stress, we determined the effects of opiates (morphine) on brain redox balance, sphingolipid metabolism and synaptic integrity during both chronic and withdrawal conditions in non-transgenic mice (nTg), and in mice transgenic for the HIV-coat protein gp120 (gp120tg). In nTg mice, we found that chronic morphine increased brain oxidative capacity and induced synaptic damage that was largely reversed during drug withdrawal. Gp120tg mice showed a similar response to chronic morphine, but the diminished oxidative capacity and synaptic damage failed to normalize during drug withdrawal. In nTg mice, brain sphingolipid content was not affected by morphine during chronic or withdrawal conditions. In gp120tg mice there was a baseline perturbation in sphingolipid metabolism that manifest as decreased sphingomyelin with accumulations of the bioactive lipid ceramide. Sphingolipid metabolism was highly reactive to morphine in gp120tg mice. Chronic morphine increased sphingomyelin content with a consequent reduction in ceramide. During drug withdrawal, these effects reversed, and sphingomyelin levels were reduced with consequent increases of ceramide. We interpret these findings to suggest that neuronal repair during morphine withdrawal is inhibited in the setting of gp120 by mechanisms that involve sustained oxidative insult and accumulations of the highly reactive intermediate ceramide.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Blotting, Western
  • Brain / drug effects*
  • Brain / metabolism
  • Brain / pathology
  • HIV Envelope Protein gp120 / genetics
  • HIV Envelope Protein gp120 / metabolism*
  • Mass Spectrometry
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Mice, Transgenic
  • Morphine / pharmacology*
  • Narcotics / pharmacology*
  • Oxidation-Reduction
  • Sphingolipids / metabolism
  • Substance Withdrawal Syndrome / metabolism
  • Substance Withdrawal Syndrome / pathology
  • Synapses / drug effects*
  • Synapses / pathology


  • HIV Envelope Protein gp120
  • Narcotics
  • Sphingolipids
  • gp120 protein, Human immunodeficiency virus 1
  • Morphine