Remifentanil (Ultiva(®)) is a potent ultra-short acting mu-opioid receptor agonist used for perioperative pain treatment and anaesthesia. So far, it is not known how sensitive the cognitive processing of auditory perception elicited by the mismatch negativity (MMN) paradigm is to opioids. The present exploratory study investigated how the opioid remifentanil modulates different stages of auditory processing as reflected in the MMN(m) and P3a(m). We recorded electroencephalography (EEG) and magnetoencephalography (MEG) during auditory stimulation under remifentanil or placebo infusion in 20 healthy participants. For the MMN, a gender effect was found for tones deviating in frequency (± 10%) from the standard tone. Remifentanil increased the amplitude of the frequency MMN at F3 in females but not in males. No effect of treatment was found for the MMN(m) or the novel P3a(m). These results suggest that while the bottom-up stimulus change detection system for auditory stimuli appears to be relatively insensitive to opioids, the automatic attention switch caused by the change detection seems to be modulated by the opioid system in females. The multiple deviant paradigm including novel sounds is a promising tool for investigating pharmacological manipulation of different stages of auditory processing. Furthermore, combining the two techniques will yield more specific information about the drug effects on MMN(m).
Keywords: Mu-opioid; P3a; auditory processing; mismatch negativity (MMN).