Rationale: Transport across the BBB is a determinant of the rate and extent of drug distribution in the brain. Heroin exerts its effects through its principal metabolites 6-monoacetyl-morphine (6-MAM) and morphine. Morphine is a known substrate of P-glycoprotein (P-gp) at the blood-brain-barrier (BBB) however, little is known about the interaction of heroin and 6-MAM with P-gp.
Objective: The objective of this paper is to study the role of the P-gp-mediated efflux at the BBB in the behavioral and molecular effects of heroin and morphine.
Methods: The transport rates of heroin and its main metabolites, at the BBB, were measured in mice by in situ brain perfusion. We then examined the effect of inhibition of P-gp on the acute nociception, locomotor activity, and gene expression modulations induced by heroin and morphine. The effect of P-gp inhibition during the acquisition of morphine-induced place preference was also studied.
Results: Inhibition of P-gp significantly increased the uptake of morphine but not that of heroin nor 6-MAM. Inhibition of P-gp significantly increased morphine-induced acute analgesia and locomotor activity but did not affect the behavioral effects of heroin; in addition, acute transcriptional responses to morphine were selectively modulated in the nucleus accumbens. Increasing morphine uptake by the brain significantly increased its reinforcing properties in the place preference paradigm.
Conclusions: The present study demonstrated that acute inhibition of P-gp not only modulates morphine-induced behavioral effects but also its transcriptional effects and reinforcing properties. This suggests that, in the case of morphine, transport across the BBB is critical for the development of dependence.