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Pain. 2002 Jul;98(1-2):47-57.

Interaction of a combination of morphine and ketamine on the nociceptive flexion reflex in human volunteers.

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Centre d'Evaluation et de Traitement de la Douleur et Service d'Anesthésie Réanimation, Chirurgicale Hôpital Ambroise Paré, 92104 Boulogne, France.


Experimental studies in animals have suggested that a combination of morphine and N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptor antagonists may have additive or synergistic analgesic effects. To further study the nature of the interaction between these two classes of analgesic agents, we analyzed the effects of morphine, ketamine and their combination on electrophysiological recordings of the nociceptive flexion RIII reflex in 12 healthy volunteers. Morphine (0.1 mg/kg), ketamine (0.1 mg/kg followed by 4 microg/kg/min) or their combination were administered intravenously according to a double-blind, placebo controlled and cross-over design. The RIII reflex was recorded from the biceps femoris and elicited by electrical stimulation of the sural nerve. The effects of the drugs were tested on: (1) the stimulus-response curves of the reflex up to the tolerance threshold (frequency of stimulation: 0.1Hz); (2) the progressive increase of the reflex and painful sensations (i.e. wind-up phenomenon) induced by a series of 15 electrical stimuli at a frequency of 1Hz (intensity: 20% above threshold). The stimulus-response curve of the nociceptive RIII reflex was significantly reduced after injection of a combination of ketamine and morphine, but was not modified when placebo or each of the active drugs was administered alone. The wind-up of the RIII reflex and painful sensation was not significantly altered after the injection of placebo, ketamine, morphine or their combination. In conclusion, the present electrophysiological results in humans demonstrate a synergistic interaction between morphine and ketamine, which tends to confirm the interest of using this type of combination in the clinical context. The differential effects observed on the recruitment curve and wind-up indicate, however, that the mechanisms of the interaction between opiates and NMDA receptor antagonists are not univocal but depend on the modality of activation of the nociceptive afferents.

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