Chronic morphine-induced changes in signaling at the A3 adenosine receptor contribute to morphine-induced hyperalgesia, tolerance, and withdrawal


Treating chronic pain by using opioids, such as morphine, is hampered by the development of opioid-induced hyperalgesia (OIH; increased pain sensitivity), antinociceptive tolerance, and withdrawal, which can contribute to dependence and abuse. In the central nervous system, the purine nucleoside adenosine has been implicated in beneficial and detrimental actions of morphine, but the extent of their interaction remains poorly understood. Here, we demonstrate that morphine-induced OIH and antinociceptive tolerance in rats is associated with a twofold increase in adenosine kinase (ADK) expression in the dorsal horn of the spinal cord. Blocking ADK activity in the spinal cord provided greater than 90% attenuation of OIH and antinociceptive tolerance through A 3

adenosine receptor (A 3

AR) signaling. Supplementing adenosine signaling with selective A 3

AR agonists blocked OIH and antinociceptive tolerance in rodents of both sexes. Engagement of A 3

AR in the spinal cord with an ADK inhibitor or A 3

AR agonist was associated with reduced dorsal horn of the spinal cord expression of the NOD-like receptor pyrin domain-containing 3 (60%-75%), cleaved caspase 1 (40%-60%), interleukin (IL)-1 β

(76%-80%), and tumor necrosis factor (50%-60%). In contrast, the neuroinhibitory and anti-inflammatory cytokine IL-10 increased twofold. In mice, A 3

AR agonists prevented the development of tolerance in a model of neuropathic pain and reduced naloxone-dependent withdrawal behaviors by greater than 50%. These findings suggest A 3

AR-dependent adenosine signaling is compromised during sustained morphine to allow the development of morphine-induced adverse effects. These findings raise the intriguing possibility that A 3

AR agonists may be useful adjunct to opioids to manage their unwanted effects. SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT: The development of hyperalgesia and antinociceptive tolerance during prolonged opioid use are noteworthy opioid-induced adverse effects that reduce opioid efficacy for treating chronic pain and increase the risk of dependence and abuse. We report that in rodents, these adverse effects are due to reduced adenosine signaling at the A 3

AR, resulting in NOD-like receptor pyrin domain-containing 3-interleukin-1β neuroinflammation in spinal cord. These effects are attenuated by A 3

AR agonists, suggesting that A 3

AR may be a target for therapeutic intervention with selective A 3

AR agonist as opioid adjuncts.



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