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J Endocrinol. 1999 Nov;163(2):261-7.

Hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal activity and pro-opiomelanocortin mRNA levels in the hypothalamus and pituitary of the rat are differentially modulated by acute intermittent morphine with or without water restriction stress.

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  • 1Laboratory of the Biology of Addictive Diseases, The Rockefeller University, 1230 York Avenue, New York, New York 10021, U S A.


Acute administration of morphine stimulates the secretion of hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) hormones, ACTH, beta-endorphin and corticosterone in the rat. In this study we investigated the effects of repeated multiple-dose morphine on HPA activity under two different conditions: without or with water restriction stress. Rats received six intermittent injections of morphine (6.25 mg/kg per injection, s.c.) every 2 h and were killed 30 min after the last injection. The results were as follows. (1) Morphine significantly elevated plasma ACTH and corticosterone levels; water restriction also significantly increased ACTH secretion, but with no significant increase of plasma corticosterone levels. In contrast, rats treated with morphine under the water restriction condition failed to show any increases of either ACTH or corticosterone levels. (2) Morphine did not change pro-opiomelanocortin (POMC) mRNA levels in the anterior pituitary; whereas water restriction significantly increased the POMC mRNA levels. The water restriction-induced increases of POMC mRNA in the anterior pituitary were absent in the rats which received morphine. (3) Morphine significantly increased POMC mRNA levels in the hypothalamus; water restriction had no effect. The morphine-induced increases in POMC mRNA in the hypothalamus were absent in the rat under the water restriction condition. These findings, that the effects of morphine on HPA activation or POMC mRNA expression depend on the presence of stress, suggest a counter-regulatory role of opiates on a stress response and opioid gene expression.

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