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Wound Repair Regen. 2005 Mar-Apr;13(2):165-74.

Opioids heal ischemic wounds in the rat.

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Vascular Biology Center, Division of Hematology, Oncology and Transplantation, Department of Medicine, University of Minnesota Medical School, Minneapolis, Minnesota 55455, USA.


Opioids are sometimes used to treat pain in ulcerative wounds, and it is speculated that pain interferes with the healing process. Because the direct effect of opioids on this process remains unknown, we examined the effect of topically applied opioids on the healing of open ischemic wounds in rats. Topically applied opioids hastened wound closure, particularly in the first 4 days when no healing was initiated in phosphate buffered saline solution-treated wounds. After 1 week of application, fentanyl, hydromorphone, and morphine resulted in 66%, 55%, and 42% wound closure, respectively, as compared to only 15% in control wounds. Opioid-induced healing was accompanied by a 1.5- to 2.5-fold increase in nuclear density in the granulation tissue and 45-87% increase in angiogenesis as compared to phosphate buffered saline solution-treated wounds. Fentanyl showed significantly improved healing compared to morphine and hydromorphone (p < 0.05, fentanyl vs. others). Fentanyl-induced healing was inhibited by the opioid receptor antagonist naloxone, suggesting that peripheral opioid receptor(s) mediate the healing process. Opioids accelerate healing by up-regulating both endothelial and inducible nitric oxide synthase and the vascular endothelial-derived growth factor receptor Flk1 in the wounds. We envision that opioids can be used topically to accelerate wound healing in diverse clinical conditions ranging from surgical incisions to nonhealing ischemic ulcers in pathophysiological conditions and in hospice patients.

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