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Psychopharmacology (Berl). 2010 Jun;210(2):149-59. doi: 10.1007/s00213-009-1770-6. Epub 2010 Jan 26.

Effects of kappa opioids in an assay of pain-depressed intracranial self-stimulation in rats.

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Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology, Virginia Commonwealth University, 410 North 12th Street, Richmond, VA 23298, USA.



Selective, centrally acting kappa opioid agonists produce antinociception in a wide range of preclinical assays, but these compounds perform poorly as analgesics in humans. This discrepancy may be related to the behavioral depressant effects of kappa agonists. Kappa antagonists do not typically produce antinociception, but they produce antidepressant-like effects in some preclinical assays.


The objective of this study was to test the hypothesis that the kappa agonist U69,593 and the kappa antagonist norbinaltorphimine would produce pronociceptive and antinociceptive effects, respectively, in an assay of pain-depressed behavior.


Effects of U69,593 (0.056-0.56 mg/kg), norbinaltorphimine (10-32 mg/kg), and morphine (3.2 mg/kg) were evaluated on the stimulation of a stretching response and the depression of intracranial self-stimulation (ICSS) of the medial forebrain bundle produced in rats by a common noxious stimulus (intraperitoneal administration of dilute lactic acid).


U69,593 produced a dose-dependent blockade of acid-stimulated stretching but only exacerbated acid-induced depression of ICSS. Thus, U69,593 produced antinociception in the assay of pain-stimulated behavior but pronociceptive effects in the assay of pain-depressed behavior. Norbinaltorphimine did not alter acid-stimulated stretching or acid-induced depression of ICSS. The mu opioid agonist morphine blocked both acid-stimulated stretching and acid-induced depression of ICSS.


These results support the hypothesis that prodepressant effects of kappa agonists may limit their clinical utility as analgesics. These results do not support the use of kappa antagonists to treat depressant effects of pain. These findings illustrate the potential value of using complementary assays of pain-stimulated and pain-depressed behaviors for preclinical evaluation of candidate analgesics.

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