Reduced number, G protein coupling, and antinociceptive efficacy of spinal mu-opioid receptors in diabetic rats are reversed by nerve growth factor

Mohammed Shaqura, Baled I. Khalefa, Mehdi Shakibaei, Jens Winkler, Mahmoud Al-Khrasani, Susanna Fürst, Shaaban A. Mousa, Michael Schäfer

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21 Citations (Scopus)


This study investigated putative mechanisms of impaired spinal opioid antinociception such as a downregulation of mu-opioid receptor (MOR) number, coupling, and efficacy in rats with advanced (12 weeks) streptozotocin (STZ)-induced diabetes. Intravenous injection of STZ (45 mg/kg) in Wistar rats led to selective degeneration of insulin-producing pancreatic ß-cells, elevated blood glucose, and mechanical hyperalgesia. In these animals, dose-dependent and naloxone-reversible intrathecal fentanyl antinociception was significantly impaired and associated with a loss in MOR immunoreactivity of calcitonin gene-related peptide-immunoreactive (CGRP-IR) sensory nerve terminals, membrane-bound MOR binding sites, and MOR-stimulated G protein coupling within the dorsal horn of the spinal cord. Intrathecal delivery of nerve growth factor (NGF) in diabetic animals normalized spinal MOR number and G protein coupling and rescued spinal fentanyl-induced antinociception. These findings identify for the first time a loss in functional MOR on central terminals of sensory neurons as a contributing factor for the impaired spinal opioid responsiveness during advanced STZ-induced diabetes that can be reversed by NGF. Moreover, they support growing evidence of a distinct regulation of opioid responsiveness during various painful states of disease (eg, arthritis, cancer, neuropathy) and may give novel therapeutic incentives. Perspective: In diabetic neuropathy a loss in sensory neuron mu-opioid receptor number and coupling contributes to impaired spinal opioid antinociception that can be reversed by NGF. These findings support growing evidence of a distinct regulation of opioid responsiveness during various painful diseases and may give novel therapeutic incentives.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)720-730
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Pain
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - Jul 1 2013



  • Diabetic neuropathy
  • intrathecal
  • nerve growth factor
  • opioids
  • pain
  • sensory neuron

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neurology
  • Clinical Neurology
  • Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine

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