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Immunopharmacology. 1992 Mar-Apr;23(2):117-24.

Distinction between the in vitro and in vivo inhibitory effects of morphine on lymphocyte proliferation based on agonist sensitivity and naltrexone reversibility.

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  • 1Department of Pharmacology, Georgetown Medical School, Washington, DC 20007.


We have previously reported that administration of a single dose of morphine (25 mg/kg) to rats results in a naltrexone-sensitive suppression of mitogen-stimulated lymphocyte proliferation. To further delineate the site of action of this inhibitory effect, the in vitro and in vivo effects of morphine on mitogen-stimulated lymphocyte proliferation were examined. In vitro, concentrations of morphine exceeding 0.1 mM exhibited a dose-dependent inhibition of Concanavalin A-induced proliferation of both whole blood and splenic lymphocytes. This inhibitory effect of morphine on lymphocyte proliferation was not attenuated by co-incubation with the opioid antagonist naltrexone (0.25 mM). These data indicate that the in vitro inhibitory effects of morphine occur at only high concentrations and are not opioid receptor mediated. In vivo, a dose-dependent inhibition of blood lymphocyte proliferation was also observed 2 h following the subcutaneous injection of morphine. In contrast to these effects, proliferation of splenic lymphocyte cultures was not significantly inhibited by morphine at doses of up to 40 mg/kg. However, following morphine administration, a greater than 90% inhibition of proliferation was obtained in cultures containing either whole blood or Ficoll-separated lymphocytes, indicating that plasma was not a contributory factor in the differential sensitivity of blood and splenic lymphocyte responses to morphine. Moreover, in these experiments, significant inhibition of lymphocyte proliferation occurred at plasma concentrations that were two orders of magnitude less than those required to produce inhibition in vitro. The in vivo inhibition of lymphocyte proliferation by morphine (10 mg/kg) was completely antagonized by pretreatment with naltrexone (5 mg/kg).(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 250 WORDS)

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