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Br J Anaesth. 2017 Oct 1;119(4):792-802. doi: 10.1093/bja/aex174.

Low-dose buprenorphine infusion to prevent postoperative hyperalgesia in patients undergoing major lung surgery and remifentanil infusion: a double-blind, randomized, active-controlled trial.

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Department of Medical and Surgical Science and Translational Medicine, Sapienza University of Rome and Pain Therapy Unit, Sant'Andrea Hospital, Rome, Italy.
Guy's & St Thomas NHS Foundation Trust, Pain Management & Neuromodulation Centre London, UK.



Postoperative secondary hyperalgesia arises from central sensitization due to pain pathways facilitation and/or acute opioid exposure. The latter is also known as opioid-induced hyperalgesia (OIH). Remifentanil, a potent μ-opioid agonist, reportedly induces postoperative hyperalgesia and increases postoperative pain scores and opioid consumption. The pathophysiology underlying secondary hyperalgesia involves N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA)-mediated pain pathways. In this study, we investigated whether perioperatively infusing low-dose buprenorphine, an opioid with anti-NMDA activity, in patients receiving remifentanil infusion prevents postoperative secondary hyperalgesia.


Sixty-four patients, undergoing remifentanil infusion during general anaesthesia and major lung surgery, were randomly assigned to receive either buprenorphine i.v. infusion (25 μg h-1 for 24 h) or morphine (equianalgesic dose) perioperatively. The presence and extent of punctuate hyperalgesia were assessed one day postoperatively. Secondary outcome variables included postoperative pain scores, opioid consumption and postoperative neuropathic pain assessed one and three months postoperatively.


A distinct area of hyperalgesia or allodynia around the surgical incision was found in more patients in the control group than in the treated group. Mean time from extubation to first morphine rescue dose was twice as long in the buprenorphine-treated group than in the morphine-treated group: 18 vs 9 min (P=0.002). At 30 min postoperatively, patients receiving morphine had a higher hazard ratio for the first analgesic rescue dose than those treated with buprenorphine (P=0.009). At three months, no differences between groups were noted.


Low-dose buprenorphine infusion prevents the development of secondary hyperalgesia around the surgical incision but shows no long-term efficacy at three months follow-up.


buprenorphine; postoperative; remifentanil; secondary hyperalgesia; thoracic surgery

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