Chronic morphine exposure increases the phosphorylation of MAP kinases and the transcription factor CREB in dorsal root ganglion neurons: an in vitro and in vivo study.Eur J Neurosci. 2001 Oct; 14(7):1091-104.EJ
Tolerance to opiates reduces their effectiveness in the treatment of severe pain. Although the mechanisms are unclear, overactivity of pro-nociceptive systems has been proposed to contribute to this phenomenon. We have reported that the development of morphine tolerance significantly increased calcitonin-gene-related-peptide-like immunoreactivity (CGRP-IR) in primary sensory afferents of the spinal dorsal horn, suggesting that changes in pain-related neuropeptides in the dorsal root ganglion (DRG) neurons may be involved (Menard et al., 1996, J. Neurosci., 16, 2342-2351). Recently, we have shown that repeated morphine treatments induced increases in CGRP- and substance P (SP)-IR in cultured DRG, mimicking the in vivo effects (Ma et al., 2000, Neuroscience, 99, 529-539). In this study, we investigated the intracellular signal transduction pathways possibly involved in morphine-induced increases in CGRP- and SP-IR in DRG neurons. Repeated morphine exposure (10-20 microm) for 6 days increased the number of neurons expressing phosphorylated (p) mitogen-activated protein (MAP) kinases, including the extracellular signal-regulated kinase (pERK), c-jun N-terminal kinase (pJNK) and P38 (pP38 MAPK). The number of neurons expressing phosphorylated cAMP responsive element binding protein (pCREB) was also markedly increased in morphine-exposed cultured DRG neurons. pERK-, pP38-, pJNK- and pCREB-IR were colocalized with CGRP-IR in cultured DRG neurons. Naloxone effectively blocked these actions of morphine, whereas a selective MEK1 inhibitor, PD98059, inhibited the morphine-induced increase in the phosphorylation of ERK and CREB, and the expression of CGRP and SP. Moreover, in morphine-tolerant rats, the number of pCREB-, CGRP- and SP-IR neurons in the lumbar DRG was also significantly increased. These in vitro and in vivo data suggest that the phosphorylation of MAP kinases and CREB plays a role in the morphine-induced increase in spinal CGRP and SP levels in primary sensory afferents, contributing to the development of tolerance to opioid-induced analgesia.