Antinociceptive and immunosuppressive effects of opiate drugs: a structure-related activity study

Br J Pharmacol. 1997 Jun;121(4):834-40. doi: 10.1038/sj.bjp.0701138.


1. Although it is well known that morphine induces significant immunosuppression, the potential immunosuppressive activity of morphine derived drugs commonly used in the treatment of pain (codeine, hydromorphone, oxycodone) has never been evaluated. 2. We evaluated in the mouse the effect of the natural opiates (morphine and codeine) and synthetic derivatives (hydromorphone, oxycodone, nalorphine, naloxone and naltrexone) on antinociceptive thresholds and immune parameters (splenocyte proliferation, Natural Killer (NK) cell activity and interleukin-2 (IL-2) production). 3. Morphine displayed a potent immunosuppressive effect that was not dose-related to the antinociceptive effect, codeine possessed a weak antinociceptive effect and limited immunosuppressive activity; nalorphine, a mu-antagonist and kappa-agonist, exerted a potent immunosuppressive effect, but had very weak antinociceptive activity. The pure kappa-antagonist nor-BNI antagonized the antinociceptive, but not the immunosuppressive effect of nalorphine. 4. Hydromorphone and oxycodone, potent antinociceptive drugs, were devoid of immunosuppressive effects. 5. The pure antagonists naloxone and naltrexone potentiated immune responses. 6. Our data indicate that the C6 carbonyl substitution, together with the presence of a C7-8 single bond potentiates the antinociceptive effect, but abolishes immunosuppression (hydromorphone and oxycodone). 7. The single substitution of an allyl on the piperidinic ring resulted in a molecule that antagonized the antinociceptive effect but maintained the immunosuppressive effect. 8. Molecules that carry modifications of C6, the C7-8 bond and C14, together with an allyl or caboxymethyl group on the piperidinic ring antagonized both the antinociceptive and the immunosuppressive effect of opiates and were themselves immunostimulants.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Division / drug effects
  • Codeine / pharmacology
  • Hydromorphone / pharmacology
  • Immune System / drug effects*
  • Immunosuppression
  • Interleukin-2 / metabolism
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Morphine / pharmacology
  • Nalorphine / pharmacology
  • Naloxone / pharmacology
  • Naltrexone / pharmacology
  • Narcotics / pharmacology*
  • Oxycodone / pharmacology
  • Structure-Activity Relationship


  • Interleukin-2
  • Narcotics
  • Naloxone
  • Naltrexone
  • Morphine
  • Oxycodone
  • Hydromorphone
  • Nalorphine
  • Codeine