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Br J Pharmacol. 2005 Sep;146(1):68-76.

Opioid tolerance in periaqueductal gray neurons isolated from mice chronically treated with morphine.

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Pain Management Research Institute, E25, Kolling Institute, University of Sydney at Royal North Shore Hospital, St Leonards, Australia.


The midbrain periaqueductal gray (PAG) is a major site of opioid analgesic action, and a significant site of cellular adaptations to chronic morphine treatment (CMT). We examined mu-opioid receptor (MOP) regulation of voltage-gated calcium channel currents (I(Ca)) and G-protein-activated K channel currents (GIRK) in PAG neurons from CMT mice. Mice were injected s.c. with 300 mg kg(-1) of morphine base in a slow release emulsion three times over 5 days, or with emulsion alone (vehicles). This protocol produced significant tolerance to the antinociceptive effects of morphine in a test of thermal nociception. Voltage clamp recordings were made of I(Ca) in acutely isolated PAG neurons and GIRK in PAG slices. The MOP agonist DAMGO (Tyr-D-Ala-Gly-N-Me-Phe-Gly-ol enkephalin) inhibited I(Ca) in neurons from CMT mice (230 nM) with a similar potency to vehicle (150 nM), but with a reduced maximal effectiveness (37% inhibition in vehicle neurons, 27% in CMT neurons). Inhibition of I(Ca) by the GABA(B) agonist baclofen was not altered by CMT. Met-enkephalin-activated GIRK currents recorded in PAG slices were significantly smaller in neurons from CMT mice than vehicles, while GIRK currents activated by baclofen were unaltered. These data demonstrate that CMT-induced antinociceptive tolerance is accompanied by homologous reduction in the effectiveness of MOP agonists to inhibit I(Ca) and activate GIRK. Thus, a reduction in MOP number and/or functional coupling to G proteins accompanies the characteristic cellular adaptations to CMT previously described in PAG neurons.

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