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Clin Immunol Immunopathol. 1998 May;87(2):163-7.

Morphine enhances complement receptor-mediated phagocytosis of Cryptococcus neoformans by human microglia.

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Neuroimmunobiology and Host Defense Laboratory, Minneapolis Medical Research Foundation, Minnesota, USA.


Recent studies have shown that opiates modulate the function of microglia, the resident macrophages of the brain. In this study, the effect of morphine on phagocytosis by human fetal microglial cells of the opportunistic fungus Cryptococcus neoformans was studied. Contrary to earlier findings with swine microglia, opsonization was required for the phagocytosis of C. neoformans by human microglia. Moreover, morphine (10(-8)M) was shown to augment uptake of opsonized C. neoformans by over 50%. This contrasts with the earlier finding of morphine-induced inhibition of phagocytosis of nonopsonized cryptococci by swine microglia. The effect of morphine on cryptococcal phagocytosis by human microglia was reversed by treatment of microglial cells with mu opiate receptor antagonists as well as by addition of anti-complement receptor antibodies to the cell cultures, indicating that both the mu opiate receptor and the complement receptor are involved in morphine-enhanced phagocytosis. These findings support the concept of opiates as neuroimmunomodulatory agents and demonstrate that the effects of opiates on microglial cells may be influenced by the animal species from which the cells are derived.

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