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Neuroscience. 2004;125(1):63-9.

Behavioral and electrophysiological evidence for tolerance to continuous morphine administration into the ventrolateral periaqueductal gray.

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Washington State University Vancouver, 14204 Northeast Salmon Creek Avenue, Vancouver, WA 98686, USA.


Repeated microinjections of morphine into the ventrolateral periaqueductal gray (vPAG) produce tolerance to the antinociceptive effect of morphine [Behav Neurosci 113 (1999) 833]. These results may be a direct effect of morphine on cells within the vPAG or be caused by cues linked to the microinjection procedure (i.e. associative tolerance). The objective of this paper was to determine whether continuous administration of morphine into the vPAG (i.e. no cues) would produce tolerance. Tolerance was assessed by measuring changes in behavior and changes in the activity of neurons in the rostral ventromedial medulla (RVM), the primary output target of the PAG. Rats were implanted with an osmotic minipump that released morphine (2.5 or 5 microg/h) or saline into the vPAG continuously. Continuous administration of morphine produced an increase in hotplate latency when measured 6 h after initiation of treatment. Tolerance to this antinociception was evident within 24 h. After 3 days, rats were anesthetized and the activity of RVM neurons was assessed. Although acute morphine administration into the RVM inhibits the activity of RVM on-cells and enhances the activity of off-cells, these neurons appeared normal following 3 days of continuous morphine administration. Systemic naloxone administration produced hyperalgesia that was associated with a marked increase in on-cell activity and a complete cessation of off-cell activity. The loss of morphine inhibition of nociception, measured behaviorally and electrophysiologically, demonstrates that tolerance is caused by a direct action of morphine on vPAG neurons.

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