Background: The analgesic potency of opioids is reduced in neuropathic pain. However, the molecular mechanism is not well understood.
Results: The present study demonstrated that increased methylation of the Mu opioid receptor (MOR) gene proximal promoter (PP) in dorsal root ganglion (DRG) plays a crucial role in the decreased morphine analgesia. Subcutaneous (s.c.), intrathecal (i.t.) and intraplantar (i.pl.), not intracerebroventricular (i.c.v.) injection of morphine, the potency of morphine analgesia was significantly reduced in nerve-injured mice compared with control sham-operated mice. After peripheral nerve injury, we observed a decreased expression of MOR protein and mRNA, accompanied by an increased methylation status of MOR gene PP, in DRG. However, peripheral nerve injury could not induce a decreased expression of MOR mRNA in the spinal cord. Treatment with 5-aza-2'-deoxycytidine (5-aza-dC), inhibited the increased methylation of MOR gene PP and prevented the decreased expression of MOR in DRG, thereby improved systemic, spinal and periphery morphine analgesia.
Conclusions: Altogether, our results demonstrate that increased methylation of the MOR gene PP in DRG is required for the decreased morphine analgesia in neuropathic pain.