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Neuroscience. 2011 Jun 2;183:221-9. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroscience.2011.03.052. Epub 2011 Mar 31.

Spinal activation of delta opioid receptors alleviates cancer-related bone pain.

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Département de Physiologie et Biophysique, Faculté de Médecine et des Sciences de la Santé, Université de Sherbrooke, Sherbrooke, QC, Canada.


Over the past few years, significant progress has been made in cancer therapy. Indeed, the lifespan of cancer patients has significantly increased. Although patients live longer, cancer-related pain remains a daily problem affecting their quality of life, especially when metastases reach the bone. In patients coping with cancer-induced bone pain, morphine and NSAIDs, often used in combination with other medications, are the most commonly used drugs to alleviate pain. However, these drugs have dose-limiting side effects. Morphine and other routinely used opioids are mu opioid receptor (MOPR) agonists. The MOPR is responsible for most opioid-related adverse effects. In the present study, we revealed potent analgesic effects of an intrathecally-administered selective delta opioid receptor (DOPR) agonist, deltorphin II, in a recently developed rat bone cancer model. Indeed, we found that deltorphin II dose-dependently reversed mechanical allodynia 14 days post-surgery in this cancer pain model, which is based on the implantation of mammary MRMT-1 cells in the femur. This effect was DOPR-mediated as it was completely blocked by naltrindole, a selective DOPR antagonist. Using the complete Freund's adjuvant model of inflammatory pain, we further demonstrated that deltorphin II was equipotent at alleviating inflammatory and cancer pain (i.e. similar ED50 values). Altogether, the present results show, for the first time, that activation of spinal DOPRs causes significant analgesia at doses sufficient to reduce inflammatory pain in a rat bone cancer pain model. Our results further suggest that DOPR represents a potential target for the development of novel analgesic therapies to be used in the treatment of cancer-related pain.

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