Patients with sickle cell disease (SCD) are often treated with opioids for severe pain. Although opioids are known to have renal-specific effects, their role in nephropathy in SCD remains unknown. Because a subset of patients receives opioids for long periods of time, we examined the influence of chronic morphine treatment on mice with pre-existing renal disease expressing varying amounts of sickle hemoglobin. Morphine treatment for 3-6 weeks resulted in a variety of defects in renal morphology observed using light and electron microscopy. Notably, morphine induced glomerular pathology, resulting in increased glomerular volume, mesangial expansion, mesangial cell proliferation, parietal cell metaplasia, podocyte effacement, and microvillus transformation. Cystic tubulopathy and hemeoxygenase-1 expression and activity were also increased in morphine-treated mice. Naloxone, a non-selective opioid receptor (OR) antagonist, ameliorated these effects. Functionally, the urine albumin to creatinine ratio was increased following acute as well as chronic morphine treatment. These results suggest that clinically relevant doses of morphine induce renal pathology and that OR antagonists may be effective for ameliorating morphine-induced renal disease.
Keywords: mesangial cell; morphine; nephropathy; pain; podocyte; sickle cell disease.