Morphine increases macrophages at the lesion site following spinal cord injury: Protective effects of minocycline
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Opioids are among the most effective and widely prescribed medications for the treatment of pain following spinal cord injury (SCI). Spinally-injured patients receive opioids within hours of arrival at the emergency room, and prolonged opioid regimens are often employed for the management of post-SCI chronic pain. However, previous studies in our laboratory suggest that the effects of opioids such as morphine may be altered in the pathophysiological context of neurotrauma. Specifically, we have shown that morphine administration in a rodent model of SCI increases mortality and tissue loss at the injury site, and decreases recovery of motor and sensory function, and overall health, even weeks after treatment. The literature suggests that opioids may produce these adverse effects by acting as endotoxins and increasing glial activation and inflammation. To better understand the effects of morphine following SCI, in this study we used flow cytometry to assess immune-competent cells at the lesion site. We observed a morphine-induced increase in the overall number of CD11b+ cells, with marked effects on microglia, in SCI subjects. Next, to investigate whether this increase in the inflammatory profile is necessary to produce morphine's effects, we challenged morphine treatment with minocycline. We found that pre-treatment with minocycline reduced the morphine-induced increase in microglia at the lesion site. More importantly, minocycline also blocked the adverse effects of morphine on recovery of function without disrupting the analgesic efficacy of this opioid. Together, our findings suggest that following SCI, morphine may exacerbate the inflammatory response, increasing cell death at the lesion site and negatively affecting functional recovery.
author list (cited authors)
Aceves, M., Terminel, M. N., Okoreeh, A., Aceves, A. R., Gong, Y. M., Polanco, A., Sohrabji, F., & Hook, M. A.