Morphine-induced changes in the function of microglia and macrophages after acute spinal cord injury. Academic Article uri icon


  • BACKGROUND: Opioids are among the most effective and commonly prescribed analgesics for the treatment of acute pain after spinal cord injury (SCI). However, morphine administration in the early phase of SCI undermines locomotor recovery, increases cell death, and decreases overall health in a rodent contusion model. Based on our previous studies we hypothesize that morphine acts on classic opioid receptors to alter the immune response. Indeed, we found that a single dose of intrathecal morphine increases the expression of activated microglia and macrophages at the injury site. Whether similar effects of morphine would be seen with repeated intravenous administration, more closely simulating clinical treatment, is not known. METHODS: To address this, we used flow cytometry to examine changes in the temporal expression of microglia and macrophages after SCI and intravenous morphine. Next, we explored whether morphine changed the function of these cells through the engagement of cell-signaling pathways linked to neurotoxicity using Western blot analysis. RESULTS: Our flow cytometry studies showed that 3 consecutive days of morphine administration after an SCI significantly increased the number of microglia and macrophages around the lesion. Using Western blot analysis, we also found that repeated administration of morphine increases -arrestin, ERK-1 and dynorphin (an endogenous kappa opioid receptor agonist) production by microglia and macrophages. CONCLUSIONS: These results suggest that morphine administered immediately after an SCI changes the innate immune response by increasing the number of immune cells and altering neuropeptide synthesis by these cells.

published proceedings

  • BMC Neurosci

altmetric score

  • 0.75

author list (cited authors)

  • Terminel, M. N., Bassil, C., Rau, J., Trevino, A., Ruiz, C., Alaniz, R., & Hook, M. A.

citation count

  • 1

complete list of authors

  • Terminel, Mabel N||Bassil, Carla||Rau, Josephina||Trevino, Amanda||Ruiz, Cristina||Alaniz, Robert||Hook, Michelle A

publication date

  • October 2022