Operant nociception in nonhuman primates

Pain. 2014 Sep;155(9):1821-1828. doi: 10.1016/j.pain.2014.06.010. Epub 2014 Jun 23.


The effective management of pain is a longstanding public health concern. Morphine-like opioids have long been front-line analgesics, but produce undesirable side effects that can limit their application. Slow progress in the introduction of novel improved medications for pain management over the last 5 decades has prompted a call for innovative translational research, including new preclinical assays. Most current in vivo procedures (eg, tail flick, hot plate, warm water tail withdrawal) assay the effects of nociceptive stimuli on simple spinal reflexes or unconditioned behavioral reactions. However, clinical treatment goals may include the restoration of previous behavioral activities, which can be limited by medication-related side effects that are not measured in such procedures. The present studies describe an apparatus and procedure to study the disruptive effects of nociceptive stimuli on voluntary behavior in nonhuman primates, and the ability of drugs to restore such behavior through their analgesic actions. Squirrel monkeys were trained to pull a cylindrical thermode for access to a highly palatable food. Next, sessions were conducted in which the temperature of the thermode was increased stepwise until responding stopped, permitting the determination of stable nociceptive thresholds. Tests revealed that several opioid analgesics, but not d-amphetamine or Δ(9)-THC, produced dose-related increases in threshold that were antagonist sensitive and efficacy dependent, consistent with their effects using traditional measures of antinociception. Unlike traditional reflex-based measures, however, the results also permitted the concurrent evaluation of response disruption, providing an index with which to characterize the behavioral selectivity of antinociceptive drugs.

Keywords: NOP agonists; Nociception assay; Operant behavior; Opioid efficacy; Squirrel monkey; Thermal pull; μ-Opioids.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Analgesics, Opioid / pharmacology*
  • Analgesics, Opioid / therapeutic use
  • Animals
  • Conditioning, Operant / drug effects*
  • Hot Temperature
  • Male
  • Morphine / pharmacology
  • Morphine / therapeutic use
  • Naltrexone / pharmacology
  • Naltrexone / therapeutic use
  • Nociception / drug effects*
  • Pain / drug therapy*
  • Pain Measurement
  • Pain Threshold / drug effects*
  • Saimiri


  • Analgesics, Opioid
  • Naltrexone
  • Morphine