No tolerance to peripheral morphine analgesia in presence of opioid expression in inflamed synovia

J Clin Invest. 1996 Aug 1;98(3):793-9. doi: 10.1172/JCI118852.


Pain treatment with centrally acting opiates is limited by tolerance. Tolerance is a decreasing effect of a drug with prolonged administration of that drug or of a related (e.g., endogenous) compound acting at the same receptor. This is often associated with a downregulation of receptors. In peripheral inflamed tissue, both locally expressed opioid peptides and morphine can produce powerful analgesia mediated by similar populations of opioid receptors. We hypothesized that the chronic presence of endogenous opioids in inflamed joints might convey downregulation of peripheral opioid receptors and tolerance to the analgesic effects of intraarticular morphine. We assessed these effects after arthroscopic surgery in patients with and without histologically verified synovial cellular infiltration, and we examined synovial opioid peptides and opioid receptors by immunocytochemistry and autoradiography, respectively. We found that, despite an abundance of opioid-containing cells in pronounced synovitis, morphine is at least as effective as in patients without such cellular infiltrations, and there is no major downregulation of peripheral opioid receptors. Thus, opioids expressed in inflamed tissue do not produce tolerance to peripheral morphine analgesia. Tolerance may be less pronounced for peripherally than for centrally acting opioids, which provides a promising perspective for the treatment of chronic pain in arthritis and other inflammatory conditions.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Analgesia*
  • Analgesics, Opioid / pharmacology*
  • Autoradiography
  • Drug Tolerance
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Morphine / pharmacology*
  • Opioid Peptides / physiology*
  • Receptors, Opioid / analysis
  • Synovitis / metabolism*


  • Analgesics, Opioid
  • Opioid Peptides
  • Receptors, Opioid
  • Morphine