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Int J Neuropsychopharmacol. 2014 Sep;17(9):1357-65. doi: 10.1017/S1461145714000169. Epub 2014 Feb 27.

Role of 6-monoacetylmorphine in the acute release of striatal dopamine induced by intravenous heroin.

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Department of Drug Abuse Research and Method Development, Division of Forensic Medicine and Drug Abuse Research,Norwegian Institute of Public Health,Pb. 4404, Nydalen, 0403 Oslo,Norway.


After injection, heroin is rapidly metabolized to 6-monoacetylmorphine (6-MAM) and further to morphine. As morphine has been shown to increase striatal dopamine, whereas 6-MAM has not been studied in this respect, we gave i.v. injections of 3 μmol 6-MAM, morphine or heroin to rats. Opioids were measured in blood, and dopamine and opioids in microdialysate from brain striatal extracellular fluid (ECF), by UPLC-MS/MS. After 6-MAM injection, 6-MAM ECF concentrations increased rapidly, and reached Cmax of 4.4 μM after 8 min. After heroin injection, 6-MAM increased rapidly in blood and reached Cmax of 6.4 μM in ECF after 8 min, while ECF Cmax for heroin was 1.2 μM after 2 min. T max for morphine in ECF was 29 and 24 min following 6-MAM and heroin administration, respectively, with corresponding Cmax levels of 1 and 2 μM. Dopamine levels peaked after 8 and 14 min following 6-MAM and heroin administration, respectively. The dopamine responses were equal, indicating no dopamine release by heroin per se. Furthermore, 6-MAM, and not morphine, appeared to mediate the early dopamine response, whereas morphine administration, giving rise to morphine ECF concentrations similar to those observed shortly after 6-MAM injection, did not increase ECF dopamine. 6-MAM appeared accordingly to be the substance responsible for the early increase in dopamine observed after heroin injection. As 6-MAM was formed rapidly from heroin in blood, and was the major substance reaching the brain after heroin administration, this also indicates that factors influencing blood 6-MAM concentrations might change the behavioural effects of heroin.

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