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Papers of the Week

Papers: 9 Mar 2019 - 15 Mar 2019

Animal Studies, Pharmacology/Drug Development

2019 Sep

J Pain



Lack of antinociceptive cross-tolerance with co-administration of morphine and fentanyl into the periaqueductal gray of male Sprague-Dawley rats.


Tolerance to the antinociceptive effect of mu-opioid receptor (MOPr) agonists, such as morphine and fentanyl, greatly limits their effectiveness for long-term use to treat pain. Clinical studies have shown that combination therapy and opioid rotation can be used to enhance opioid-induced antinociception once tolerance has developed. The mechanism and brain regions involved in these processes are unknown. The purpose of this study was to evaluate the contribution of the ventrolateral periaqueductal gray (vlPAG) to antinociceptive tolerance and cross-tolerance between administration and co-administration of morphine and fentanyl. Tolerance was induced by pretreating rats with morphine or fentanyl or low-dose combination of morphine and fentanyl into the vlPAG followed by assessment of cross-tolerance to the other opioid. In addition, tolerance to the combined treatment was assessed. Cross-tolerance did not develop between repeated vlPAG microinjections of morphine and fentanyl. Likewise, there was no evidence of cross-tolerance from morphine or fentanyl to co-administration of morphine and fentanyl. Co-administration did not cause cross-tolerance to fentanyl. Cross-tolerance was only evident to morphine or morphine and fentanyl combined in rats pretreated with co-administration of low-doses of morphine and fentanyl. In conclusion, cross-tolerance does not develop between morphine and fentanyl within the vlPAG. This finding is consistent with the functionally selective signaling that has been reported for antinociception and tolerance following morphine and fentanyl binding to the MOPr. This research supports the notion that combination therapy and opioid rotation may be useful clinical practices to reduce opioid tolerance and other side effects. Perspective: This preclinical study shows that there is a reduction in cross tolerance between morphine and fentanyl within the periaqueductal gray which is key brain region in opioid antinociception and tolerance.