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J Invest Dermatol. 2003 Nov;121(5):1053-9.

Sex differences in opioid-induced enhancement of contact hypersensitivity.

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Biological Psychology Program, Department of Psychology, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, North Carolina 27599-3270, USA.


Previous research has demonstrated that, in male rats, the magnitude of contact hypersensitivity (CHS) can be enhanced by morphine treatment. The present experiments test the hypothesis that the mu-opioids morphine, etorphine, and buprenorphine would produce significant sex differences in the magnitude of 2,4-dinitrofluorobenzene-induced CHS. During tests conducted over a 192-h period, morphine, etorphine, and buprenorphine administered before elicitation of CHS on the external surface of the ear (pinna) potentiated the CHS response, and the magnitude of this enhancement was significantly greater in females than males. By contrast, morphine had no effect on croton oil-induced irritant contact dermatitis, indicating that morphine's effects on CHS do not generalize to immunologically nonspecific forms of contact dermatitis. Activation of brain mu-opioid receptors is responsible for the effects of morphine on CHS, because intracerebroventricular treatment with the mu-opioid receptor antagonist beta-funaltrexamine blocked morphine potentiation of CHS in females and males. The sex differences in morphine potentiation of CHS appear to be a result of the gonadal hormonal milieu, because castration enhanced the CHS response following vehicle and morphine treatment, whereas ovariectomy significantly attenuated the enhancement of CHS by morphine. Because ovariectomy had no effect on the CHS response following vehicle treatment, the presence of female gonadal hormones may underlie the sex differences in morphine potentiation of CHS in gonadally intact animals. Overall, these results support an increased sensitivity to the modulatory effects of opioids on the CHS response in females that depends on the interaction between gonadal hormones and the central mu-opioid system.

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