I am a
Home I AM A Search Login

Papers of the Week

Papers: 12 Aug 2023 - 18 Aug 2023


Human Studies, Molecular/Cellular, Neurobiology, Pharmacology/Drug Development

2023 Aug 11



How do opioids control pain circuits in the brainstem during opioid-induced disorders and in chronic pain? Implications for the treatment of chronic pain.


Costa AR, Tavares I, Martins I


Brainstem areas involved in descending pain modulation are crucial for the analgesic actions of opioids. However, the role of opioids in these areas during tolerance, opioid-induced hyperalgesia (OIH), and in chronic pain settings remains underappreciated. We conducted a revision of the recent studies performed in the main brainstem areas devoted to descending pain modulation with a special focus on the medullary dorsal reticular nucleus (DRt), as a distinctive pain facilitatory area and a key player in the diffuse noxious inhibitory control paradigm. We show that maladaptive processes within the signaling of the µ-opioid receptor (MOR), which entail desensitization and a switch to excitatory signaling, occur in the brainstem, contributing to tolerance and OIH. In the context of chronic pain, the alterations found are complex and depend on the area and model of chronic pain. For example, the downregulation of MOR and δ-opioid receptor (DOR) in some areas, including the DRt, during neuropathic pain likely contributes to the inefficacy of opioids. However, the upregulation of MOR and DOR, at the rostral ventromedial medulla, in inflammatory pain models, suggests therapeutic avenues to explore. Mechanistically, the rationale for the diversity and complexity of alterations in the brainstem is likely provided by the alternative splicing of opioid receptors and the heteromerization of MOR. In conclusion, this review emphasizes how important it is to consider the effects of opioids at these circuits when using opioids for the treatment of chronic pain and for the development of safer and effective opioids.