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Anesthesiology. 2001 Dec;95(6):1329-38.

The transfer half-life of morphine-6-glucuronide from plasma to effect site assessed by pupil size measurement in healthy volunteers.

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  • 1Department of Clinical Pharmacology, Johann Wolfgang Goethe University, Frankfurt, Germany.



Clinical and experimental data suggested a long delay between the plasma concentration versus time course of morphine-6-glucuronide and the time course of its central opioid effects. This study was aimed at the quantification of the transfer half-life (t(1/2,ke0)) of this delay.


Pupil size was used as a measure of central opioid effect. Eight healthy volunteers (four men, four women) participated in that single-blind randomized crossover study. Median dosages administered intravenously were 0.5 mg morphine as loading dose followed by 10.7 mg given as infusion over a period of 4.7 h, and 10.2 mg M6G as loading dose followed by 39.1 mg M6G given over a period of 3.7 h. The duration of the infusion was tailored to achieve submaximum pupil constriction. The pupil diameter was assessed every 20 min for approximately 18 h. Values of t(1/2,ke0) were obtained by semiparametric pharmacokinetic-pharmacodynamic modeling.


The estimated median t(1/2,ke0) of M6G was 6.4 h (range, 2.9-16.2 h), and that of morphine was 2.8 h (range, 1.8-4.4 h). The individual t(1/2,ke0) of M6G was always longer than that of morphine. Judged by the concentration at half-maximun effect (EC50) values of the sigmoid pupil size at maximum constriction (Emax) model describing concentration-response relation, M6G was apparently 22 times less potent than morphine (EC50 = 740.5 nm [range, 500-1,520 nm] for M6G and 36.2 nm [range, 19.7-43.3 nm] for morphine). The steepness of the sigmoid Emax model did not significantly differ between morphine and M6G (gamma = 1.9 and 2.6, respectively). To produce similar pupil effects, the M6G dose had to be 2.8 times greater than the morphine dose.


The reported numerical value of the t(1/2,ke0) of M6G in humans obtained after direct administration of M6G is a step toward a complete modeling approach to the prediction of the clinical effects of morphine. The study raises questions about the high interindividual variability of the transfer half-life between plasma and effect site (ke0) values and the apparent low potency of M6G.

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