Age-Induced Changes in μ-Opioid Receptor Signaling in the Midbrain Periaqueductal Gray of Male and Female Rats

Evan F. Fullerton, Mary C. Karom, John M. Streicher, Larry J. Young, Anne Z. Murphy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Opioids have decreased analgesic potency (but not efficacy) in aged rodents compared with adults; however, the neural mechanisms underlying this attenuated response are not yet known. The present study investigated the impact of advanced age and biological sex on opioid signaling in the ventrolateral periaqueductal gray (vlPAG) in the presence of chronic inflammatory pain. Assays measuring μ-opioid receptor (MOR) radioligand binding, GTPγS binding, receptor phosphorylation, cAMP inhibition, and regulator of G-protein signaling (RGS) protein expression were performed on vlPAG tissue from adult (2-3 months) and aged (16-18 months) male and female rats. Persistent inflammatory pain was induced by intraplantar injection of complete Freund's adjuvant (CFA). Adult males exhibited the highest MOR binding potential (BP) and highest G-protein activation (activation efficiency ratio) in comparison to aged males and females (adult and aged). No impact of advanced age or sex on MOR phosphorylation state was observed. DAMGO-induced cAMP inhibition was highest in the vlPAG of adult males compared with aged males and females (adult and aged). vlPAG levels of RGS4 and RGS9-2, critical for terminating Gprotein signaling, were assessed using RNAscope. Adult rats (both males and females) exhibited lower levels of vlPAG RGS4 and RGS9-2 mRNA expression compared with aged males and females. The observed age-related reductions in vlPAG MOR BP, G-protein activation efficiency, and cAMP inhibition, along with the observed age-related increases in RGS4 and RGS9-2 vlPAG expression, provide potential mechanisms whereby the potency of opioids is decreased in the aged population.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)6232-6242
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Neuroscience
Issue number32
StatePublished - Aug 10 2022


  • advanced age
  • chronic pain
  • m-opioid receptor
  • opioid signaling
  • pharmacology
  • sex differences

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine(all)


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