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Mol Med. 2012 Dec 6;18:1320-6. doi: 10.2119/molmed.2012.00244.

Morphine induces hyperalgesia without involvement of μ-opioid receptor or morphine-3-glucuronide.

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Department of Anesthesiology, Leiden University Medical Center, Leiden, the Netherlands.


Opioid-induced hyperalgesia (OIH) is a paradoxical increase in pain perception that may manifest during opioid treatment. For morphine, the metabolite morphine-3-glucuronide (M3G) is commonly believed to underlie this phenomenon. Here, in three separate studies, we empirically assess the role of M3G in morphine-induced hyperalgesia. In the first study, CD-1 mice injected with morphine (15 mg/kg subcutaneously) after pretreatment with the opioid receptor antagonist naltrexone (NTX) (15 mg/kg) showed tail withdrawal latency reductions indicative of hyperalgesia (2.5 ± 0.1 s at t = 30 min, P < 0.001 versus baseline). In these mice, the morphine/M3G concentration ratios versus effect showed a negative correlation (r(p) = -0.65, P < 0.001), indicating that higher morphine relative to M3G concentrations are associated with increased OIH. In the second study, similar hyperalgesic responses were observed in mice lacking the multidrug resistance protein 3 (MRP3) transporter protein (Mrp3(-/-) mice) in the liver and their wild-type controls (FVB mice; latency reductions: 3.1 ± 0.2 s at t = 30 min, P < 0.001 versus within-strain baseline). In the final study, the pharmacokinetics of morphine and M3G were measured in Mrp3(-/-) and FVB mice. Mrp3(-/-) mice displayed a significantly reduced capacity to export M3G into the systemic circulation, with plasma M3G concentrations just 7% of those observed in FVB controls. The data confirm previous literature that morphine causes hyperalgesia in the absence of opioid receptor activation but also indicate that this hyperalgesia may occur without a significant contribution of hepatic M3G. The relevance of these data to humans has yet to be demonstrated.

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