Differential Effects of Oxycodone, Hydrocodone, and Morphine on Activation Levels of Signaling Molecules. Academic Article uri icon


  • BACKGROUND: Opioids alter the responses of D2-like dopamine receptors (D2DRs), known to be involved in the pathology of addiction and other mental illnesses. Importantly, our recent results demonstrated that various opioids differentially modulate the behavioral responses of D2DRs. OBJECTIVE: To examine the effect of various opioids on striatal activation levels of Akt and ERK1/2, as well as the signaling responses of D2DRs following opioid exposure. METHODS: Mice were pre-treated with 20 mg/kg morphine, hydrocodone, oxycodone, or saline for 6 days. Twenty-four hours later, mice were injected with vehicle or a D2/D3 receptor agonist, quinpirole. Thirty minutes later, dorsal striatum was collected and analyzed using Western blot. RESULTS: In morphine-pretreated animals, baseline Akt activation level was unchanged, but was reduced in response to quinpirole. In contrast, baseline Akt activation levels were reduced in mice pretreated with hydrocodone and oxycodone, but were unchanged in response to quinpirole. In mice pretreated with all opioids, baseline ERK2 activation levels were unchanged and increased in response to quinpirole. However, quinpirole-induced ERK2 activation was significantly higher than drug nave animals only in the morphine-pretreated mice. CONCLUSIONS: Various opioids differentially modulate the baseline activation levels of signaling molecules, which in turn results in ligand-selective effects on the responses to a D2/D3 dopamine receptor agonist. This demonstrates a complex interplay between opioid receptors and D2DRs, and supports the notion that various opioids carry differential risks to the dopamine reward system. This information should be considered when prescribing opioid pain medication, to balance effectiveness with minimal risk.

published proceedings

  • Pain Med

altmetric score

  • 0.5

author list (cited authors)

  • Emery, M. A., Bates, M., Wellman, P. J., & Eitan, S.

citation count

  • 13

complete list of authors

  • Emery, Michael A||Bates, ML Shawn||Wellman, Paul J||Eitan, Shoshana

publication date

  • September 2015