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Anesthesiology. 2019 May;130(5):804-819. doi: 10.1097/ALN.0000000000002648.

α2δ-1-Bound N-Methyl-D-aspartate Receptors Mediate Morphine-induced Hyperalgesia and Analgesic Tolerance by Potentiating Glutamatergic Input in Rodents.

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From the Center for Neuroscience and Pain Research, Department of Anesthesiology and Perioperative Medicine, University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, Houston, Texas (M.D., S.-R.C., H.C., H.-L.P.) the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, School of Life Sciences, Central South University, Changsha, Hunan, China (M.D.).



Chronic use of μ-opioid receptor agonists paradoxically causes both hyperalgesia and the loss of analgesic efficacy. Opioid treatment increases presynaptic N-methyl-D-aspartate receptor activity to potentiate nociceptive input to spinal dorsal horn neurons. However, the mechanism responsible for this opioid-induced activation of presynaptic N-methyl-D-aspartate receptors remains unclear. α2δ-1, formerly known as a calcium channel subunit, interacts with N-methyl-D-aspartate receptors and is primarily expressed at presynaptic terminals. This study tested the hypothesis that α2δ-1-bound N-methyl-D-aspartate receptors contribute to presynaptic N-methyl-D-aspartate receptor hyperactivity associated with opioid-induced hyperalgesia and analgesic tolerance.


Rats (5 mg/kg) and wild-type and α2δ-1-knockout mice (10 mg/kg) were treated intraperitoneally with morphine twice/day for 8 consecutive days, and nociceptive thresholds were examined. Presynaptic N-methyl-D-aspartate receptor activity was recorded in spinal cord slices. Coimmunoprecipitation was performed to examine protein-protein interactions.


Chronic morphine treatment in rats increased α2δ-1 protein amounts in the dorsal root ganglion and spinal cord. Chronic morphine exposure also increased the physical interaction between α2δ-1 and N-methyl-D-aspartate receptors by 1.5 ± 0.3 fold (means ± SD, P = 0.009, n = 6) and the prevalence of α2δ-1-bound N-methyl-D-aspartate receptors at spinal cord synapses. Inhibiting α2δ-1 with gabapentin or genetic knockout of α2δ-1 abolished the increase in presynaptic N-methyl-D-aspartate receptor activity in the spinal dorsal horn induced by morphine treatment. Furthermore, uncoupling the α2δ-1-N-methyl-D-aspartate receptor interaction with an α2δ-1 C terminus-interfering peptide fully reversed morphine-induced tonic activation of N-methyl-D-aspartate receptors at the central terminal of primary afferents. Finally, intraperitoneal injection of gabapentin or intrathecal injection of an α2δ-1 C terminus-interfering peptide or α2δ-1 genetic knockout abolished the mechanical and thermal hyperalgesia induced by chronic morphine exposure and largely preserved morphine's analgesic effect during 8 days of morphine treatment.


α2δ-1-Bound N-methyl-D-aspartate receptors contribute to opioid-induced hyperalgesia and tolerance by augmenting presynaptic N-methyl-D-aspartate receptor expression and activity at the spinal cord level.

[Available on 2020-05-01]

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