Objective: Opioid therapy is associated with altered secretion and motility of the gut. The relative contribution of decreased secretion to the development of opioid-induced constipation remains unknown.
Materials and methods: Twenty-five healthy males were treated with oxycodone for 5 d in a placebo-controlled, randomised cross-over design. Gastrointestinal adverse effects were assessed with validated questionnaires (bowel function index and gastrointestinal symptom rating scale). Rectosigmoid mucosal biopsies were taken at baseline and on day 5 during both treatments and mounted in Ussing chambers. Electrogenic ion transport parameters (short circuit current (SCC) and slope conductance) were measured after addition of secretagogues (prostaglandin E2 (PGE2) (6 μm), theophylline (400 μm)), and an inhibitor (ouabain (200 μm)). Additionally, morphine (50 μm) was added to investigate the direct opioid effect on colonic mucosa.
Results: Questionnaires showed pronounced bowel symptoms, including constipation during oxycodone treatment (eight-fold increase in bowel function index score from day 1 to day 5 (p < 0.001) while no significant change occurred during placebo treatment (p = 0.47). Basal SCC and slope conductance did not differ between treatments (all p > 0.05) and application with PGE2, theophylline, and ouabain yielded comparable results on all examinations (all p > 0.05). Morphine application consistently did not evoke a change in ion transport.
Conclusion: Compared to placebo, epithelial electrogenic ion transport is not altered in mucosal biopsies from the rectosigmoid colon following 5-d oxycodone treatment. The secretory mechanisms in isolated mucosa appear to play a negligible role in the development of opioid-induced constipation.
Keywords: Colon; Ussing chamber; constipation; human; mucosal secretion; opioid analgesics.