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Neuroscience. 2010 May 19;167(3):880-93. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroscience.2010.02.011. Epub 2010 Feb 21.

Possible involvement of toll-like receptor 4/myeloid differentiation factor-2 activity of opioid inactive isomers causes spinal proinflammation and related behavioral consequences.

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Department of Psychology, University of Colorado at Boulder, Boulder, CO 80309-0345, USA.


Opioid-induced glial activation and its proinflammatory consequences have been associated with both reduced acute opioid analgesia and the enhanced development of tolerance, hyperalgesia and allodynia following chronic opioid administration. Intriguingly, recent evidence demonstrates that these effects can result independently from the activation of classical, stereoselective opioid receptors. Here, a structurally disparate range of opioids cause activation of signaling by the innate immune receptor toll like receptor 4 (TLR4), resulting in proinflammatory glial activation. In the present series of studies, we demonstrate that the (+)-isomers of methadone and morphine, which bind with negligible affinity to classical opioid receptors, induced upregulation of proinflammatory cytokine and chemokine production in rat isolated dorsal spinal cord. Chronic intrathecal (+)-methadone produced hyperalgesia and allodynia, which were associated with significantly increased spinal glial activation (TLR4 mRNA and protein) and the expression of multiple chemokines and cytokines. Statistical analysis suggests that a cluster of cytokines and chemokines may contribute to these nociceptive behavioral changes. Acute intrathecal (+)-methadone and (+)-morphine were also found to induce microglial, interleukin-1 and TLR4/myeloid differentiation factor-2 (MD-2) dependent enhancement of pain responsivity. In silico docking analysis demonstrated (+)-naloxone sensitive docking of (+)-methadone and (+)-morphine to human MD-2. Collectively, these data provide the first evidence of the pro-nociceptive consequences of small molecule xenobiotic activation of spinal TLR4 signaling independent of classical opioid receptor involvement.

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