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Papers of the Week

Papers: 24 Jul 2021 - 30 Jul 2021

Animal Studies, Pharmacology/Drug Development

2021 Jul 26

Behav Pharmacol

Escalating morphine dosage fails to elicit conditioned analgesia in a preclinical chronic neuropathic pain model.


Many people with chronic pain escalate their opioid dosage to counteract tolerance effects. A treatment regimen consisting of placebos admixed with opioids has been suggested as a possible therapeutic option that could reduce the harm of long-term opioid use. However, the analgesic efficacy of such a regimen requires further investigation before widespread adoption. We have recently reported that a 4-day pharmacological conditioning procedure, which paired morphine (6 mg/kg) with contextual cues, elicited placebo analgesia in subpopulations of male (35%) and female (25%) rats with sciatic nerve chronic constriction injury (CCI). Here, we investigated how an escalating morphine dosage during conditioning affects the incidence and strength of placebo analgesia. Forty-four male, Sprague-Dawley rats received CCI. Thirty-eight (86%) rats developed strong cold allodynia by day 6 post-surgery, as measured by hind paw withdrawal (HPW) behaviour on a 5°C cold plate (120 s). In this experiment, pharmacological conditioning consisted of an escalating morphine dose over 4 days (8/9/10/12 mg/kg). This dosing regimen produced strong reductions in HPW behaviour and counteracted the effects of morphine tolerance during conditioning. However, none of the rats given the placebo treatment (n = 12) demonstrated reductions in HPW behaviour when morphine was substituted for saline (i.e. placebo analgesia), but instead showed a strong behavioural response (rearing). These results demonstrate that a high, escalating dose of morphine failed to produce conditioned placebo analgesia in rats with CCI. It is possible that admixing placebos with opioids may be similarly ineffective in chronic pain patients when the opioids regimen is high or escalating.