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Biochem Pharmacol. 2009 Jun 1;77(11):1747-55. doi: 10.1016/j.bcp.2009.03.003. Epub 2009 Mar 14.

Morphine-induced early delays in wound closure: involvement of sensory neuropeptides and modification of neurokinin receptor expression.

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Department of Pharmacology, Toxicology and Therapeutics, University of Kansas Medical Center, 3901 Rainbow Boulevard, Mail Stop 1018, Kansas City, KS 66160, USA.


Dose-limiting side effects of centrally acting opioid drugs have led to the use of topical opioids to reduce the pain associated with chronic cutaneous wounds. However, previous studies indicate that topical morphine application impairs wound healing. This study was designed to elucidate the mechanisms by which morphine delays wound closure. Rats were depleted of sensory neuropeptides by treatment with capsaicin, and full-thickness 4-mm diameter wounds were excised from the intrascapular region. Wounds were treated topically twice daily with 5mM morphine sulfate, 1mM substance P, 1mM neurokinin A, or 5mM morphine combined with 1mM substance P or neurokinin A and wound areas assessed. During closure, wound tissue was taken 1, 3, 5, and 8 days post-wounding from control and morphine-treated rats and immunostained for neurokinin receptors and markers for macrophages, myofibroblasts, and vasculature. Results obtained from capsaicin-treated animals demonstrated a significant delay in the early stages of wound contraction that was reversed by neuropeptide application. Treatment of capsaicin-treated rats with topical morphine did not further delay wound closure, suggesting that topical opioids impair wound closure via the inhibition of peripheral neuropeptide release into the healing wound. Morphine application altered neurokinin-1 and neurokinin-2 receptor expression in inflammatory and parenchymal cells essential for wound healing in a cell-specific manner, demonstrating a direct effect of morphine on neurokinin receptor regulation within an array of cells involved in wound healing. These data provide evidence indicating a potentially detrimental effect of topical morphine application on the dynamic wound healing process.

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