Upregulation of an opioid-mediated antinociceptive mechanism in transgenic mice over-expressing substance P in the spinal cord
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In transgenic mice expressing ectopic substance P fibres in the spinal white matter, a normally innocuous mechanical stimulus induces hyperalgesia and allodynia which are reversed by substance P and N-methyl-D-aspartate receptor antagonists. This period of enhanced excitation is followed by a rebound overshoot in these animals. As previous evidence indicates opioid mechanisms in a similar rebound in normal animals, the present study was done to determine the effects of systemic administration of morphine and the opiate receptor antagonist, naloxone, on the stimulus-induced responses in the tail withdrawal reflex. Once baseline reaction times had been taken, different combinations of saline, naloxone and morphine were administered intraperitoneally to transgenic and control mice of either sex. A mechanical conditioning stimulus of 450g was then applied to the tip of the tail for 2s. This stimulus was innocuous in control mice given saline or naloxone, but provoked a nociceptive response in transgenic mice given these compounds. In control and transgenic mice, following morphine administration there was an antinociceptive effect. In control mice the subsequent mechanical stimulus had no effect. However, in transgenic mice the mechanical stimulus produced a further antinociception. Naloxone blocked the effect of morphine and the subsequent conditioning stimulus in both control and transgenic mice. The results indicate that while morphine is equally effective on the withdrawal reflex in both types of animal, in the transgenic mice morphine reveals an intrinsic, naloxone-sensitive antinociceptive mechanism. The data are interpreted to suggest that over-expression of substance P or some other factor in the spinal cord of transgenic mice is associated with the up-regulation or facilitation of an opiate-mediated intrinsic antinociceptive mechanism. This is a novel observation because the genetic manipulation in this transgenic mouse results in a transient over-expression of nerve growth factor during development that leads to the formation of ectopic primary afferent fibres in the spinal cord containing substance P. These fibres persist indefinitely after the nerve growth factor levels return to normal. Opioid mechanisms, which are likely of dorsal horn origin, do not fall under the direct influence of nerve growth factor mechanisms and therefore the intriguing possibility is raised that opioid mechanisms in the spinal cord are regulated at least in part by substance P-related mechanisms.