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J Neuroimmune Pharmacol. 2011 Dec;6(4):626-39. doi: 10.1007/s11481-011-9272-9. Epub 2011 Mar 24.

Morphine potentiates neuropathogenesis of SIV infection in rhesus macaques.

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Department of Medicine, Division of Molecular Oncology, Washington University School of Medicine, St Louis, MO 63110, USA.


Despite the advent of antiretroviral therapy, complications of HIV-1 infection with concurrent drug abuse are an emerging problem. Opiates are well known to modulate immune responses by preventing the development of cell-mediated immune responses. Their effect on the pathogenesis of HIV-1 infection however remains controversial. Using the simian immunodeficiency virus/macaque model of HIV pathogenesis, we sought to explore the impact of morphine on disease progression and pathogenesis. Sixteen rhesus macaques were divided into two groups; four were administered saline and 12 others morphine routinely. Both groups of animals were then inoculated with SIVmacR71/17E and followed longitudinally for disease pathogenesis. The morphine group (M+V) exhibited a trend towards higher mortality rates and retardation in weight gain compared to the virus-alone group. Interestingly, a subset of M+V animals succumbed to disease within weeks post-infection. These rapid progressors also exhibited a higher incidence of other end-organ pathologies. Despite the higher numbers of circulating CD4+ and CD8+ T cells in the M+V group, CD4/CD8 ratios between the groups remained unchanged. Plasma and CSF viral load in the M+V group was at least a log higher than the control group. Similarly, there was a trend toward increased virus build-up in the brains of M+V animals compared with controls. A novel finding of this study was the increased influx of infected monocyte/macrophages in the brains of M+V animals.

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