Evidence for spinal dorsal horn hyperexcitability in rats following sustained morphine exposure

Rie Suzuki, Frank Porreca, Anthony H. Dickenson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Scopus citations


Repeated or sustained exposure to opioids can not only induce analgesia but also long lasting enhancements in pain sensitivity, a phenomenon reported clinically and in animals. In rats, opioid-induced abnormal pain can be readily measured following continued delivery of morphine and the recruitment of descending facilitatory influences appears essential for the genesis of this state. Here, we provide evidence that an increased excitability develops in neurons of the deep dorsal horn (DH), following 7-10 days of sustained delivery of morphine. Electrophysiological recordings were made in halothane-anesthetised animals implanted with osmotic minipumps containing either morphine (45 μg/0.5 μl/h and 90 μg/0.5 μl/h) or saline. A separate group of naïve animals was also used as controls. Sustained morphine exposure resulted in dose-related and modality-specific enhancements of DH neurons (C-fibre and Aδ-fibre evoked responses, non-potentiated responses) and expanded neuronal receptive fields, as mapped with low intensity mechanical punctate stimuli. Heat and mechanical stimulation of the hindpaw (brush and von Frey filaments) produced similar enhancements in morphine-treated rats compared to control rats, reflecting spinal hyperexcitability. Interestingly, wind-up itself was unaltered. These neuroadaptive changes could form the neuronal basis for the documented clinical and experimental reports of abnormal paradoxical pain after opioids. Since brainstem excitatory controls actively operate during prolonged opioid exposure, the sustained triggering of such influences may act alongside spinal mechanisms such as wind-up to enhance central sensitisation and alter CNS excitability.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)156-161
Number of pages6
JournalNeuroscience Letters
Issue number2
StatePublished - Oct 23 2006


  • Central sensitisation
  • Descending facilitation
  • Electrophysiology
  • Hyperalgesia
  • Opioids
  • Spinal cord

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Neuroscience


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