Background: In patients with renal failure, morphine may cause prolonged narcosis and respiratory depression. Accumulation of the pharmacologically active metabolite morphine-6-glucuronide (M-6G) may explain this effect of morphine in patients with renal failure. After a single oral dose, morphine and its conjugates were measured in the plasma and the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) in patients with renal failure.
Methods: Eight patients with normal renal function and six patients with renal failure requiring dialysis were studied after operation under spinal anesthesia. Plasma and CSF concentrations of morphine, morphine-3-glucuronide (M-3G), and M-6G were measured by high-pressure liquid chromatography every 4 h for 24 h after an oral dose of 30 mg morphine.
Results: The area under morphine plasma concentration-time curve from 0 to 24 h increased from 38 +/- 4 ng.ml-1 x h in patients with normal renal function to 110 ng.ml-1 x h in those with renal failure (P < 0.01). In patients with renal failure, plasma concentrations of M-3G and M-6G were higher at 4 h and remained at an increased level until the end of the study. The peak CSF concentration of morphine at 8 h was similar in those with renal failure or normal renal function, 1.8 +/- 0.4 and 2.0 +/- 0.6 ng.ml-1 respectively. M-3G and M-6G in CSF reached a maximum at 12 h in patients with normal renal function, whereas in those with renal failure the concentrations gradually increased so that the highest concentrations were observed at 24 h. At 24 h, CSF M-6G concentration was 15 times greater in patients with renal failure than in those with normal renal function.
Conclusions: We conclude that M-3G and M-6G readily cross the blood-brain barrier in patients with normal renal function or with renal failure. In patients with renal failure, the retention of plasma M-6G induces a progressive accumulation of this active metabolite in CSF; this accumulation may explain the increased susceptibility to morphine in patients with renal failure.