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Neuropsychopharmacology. 2003 Nov;28(11):2000-9.

Effects of buprenorphine maintenance dose on mu-opioid receptor availability, plasma concentrations, and antagonist blockade in heroin-dependent volunteers.

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Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neurosciences and Addiction Research Institute, Wayne State University, Detroit, MI 48207, USA.


The clinical effectiveness of opioid maintenance for heroin dependence is believed to result from a medication's ability to decrease mu-opioid receptor (muOR) availability thereby replacing agonist effects, alleviating withdrawal symptoms and attenuating heroin effects. We empirically tested this hypothesis in five heroin-dependent volunteers who were successively maintained on 32, 16, 2, and 0 mg daily buprenorphine (BUP) tablet doses. We predicted and confirmed that higher BUP doses would decrease in vivo muOR availability (measured with PET and [(11)C]carfentanil), increase plasma levels of BUP and its metabolite nor-BUP, and decrease withdrawal symptoms and hydromorphone (HYD) responses. Relative to placebo, BUP significantly decreased mean (+/-SEM) whole-brain muOR availability 41+/-8, 80+/-2, and 84+/-2% at 2, 16, and 32 mg, respectively. Regions of interest (ROIs) (prefrontal cortex, anterior cingulate, thalamus, amygdala, nucleus accumbens, caudate) showed similar dose-dependent effects. Changes in muOR availability varied across ROIs (prefrontal cortex, 47% vs amygdala, 27%) at BUP 2 mg, but were more homogeneous across ROIs at BUP 32 mg (94-98%; except thalamus, 88%). Relative to placebo (0 ng/ml), peak plasma levels of BUP and nor-BUP were comparable and dose-dependent (0.5-1, 5-6, and 13-14 ng/ml at 2, 16, and 32 mg, respectively). muOR availability decreases were negatively correlated with BUP plasma level and positively correlated with questionnaire-based opioid withdrawal symptoms and attenuation of HYD symptoms. These findings suggest that high-dose BUP maintenance produces near-maximal muOR occupation, muOR availability correlates well with plasma levels, and BUP-related opioid symptoms and antagonist blockade exhibit concentration-effect relationships.

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