Targeting Opioid Receptor Signal Transduction to Produce Sustained Analgesia

  • Fiona A. Bull

    Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


    Mu opioid receptors (MOPs) in the pain pathway contribute to morphine analgesia. Morphine also stimulates reward/reinforcement through disinhibition of dopaminergic (DA) neurones in the ventral tegmental area (VTA), an effect implicated in its abuse and dependence. We hope to develop approaches to achieve sustained analgesia without affecting reward by exploiting differential MOP signalling mechanisms in the pain and reward pathways. MOPs, delta opioid receptors (DOPs) and β-arrestin2 (BAR2) are all necessary components of the signalling complex in nociceptive neurones for morphine analgesic tolerance; c-Src (a tyrosine kinase), thought to couple to MOP receptors through BAR2 has
    also been implicated.

    To investigate opioid receptor signalling in response to morphine we used a variety of different techniques that included behavioural measures of nociception, reinforcement and locomotion and electrophysiological methods to study DRG neurones from the pain pathway and brain slices containing VTA neurones.

    This study in mice confirms that morphine administered subcutaneously (SC) causes analgesia, analgesic tolerance, and has psychomotor effects leading to enhanced locomotion and reinforcement. In VTA neurones morphine and the selective MOP receptor agonist DAMGO caused concentration-dependent inhibition of the frequency of IPSCs. All these actions of morphine were absent from MOP-/- mice. Morphine exhibited reduced potency as 1) an analgesic, 2) stimulator of locomotion, 3) a reinforcer in CPP and 4) an inhibitor of sIPSC frequency, when applied to MOP+/- mice or their VTA neurones. Morphine analgesic tolerance developed faster and to a greater extent in MOP+/- mice
    than in WT mice. DOP-/- mice exhibited morphine analgesia with less tolerance, as did BAR2-/- mice. BAR2-/- mice also exhibited reduced morphine locomotion and an increased sensitivity to morphine reinforcement. Morphine tolerance was absent from BAR2-/-//DOP-/- mice. The inhibition of sIPSC frequency by morphine was reduced in BAR2+/- and BAR2-/- VTA neurones. Dasatinib and PP2 (c-Src tyrosine kinase inhibitors) prevented the development of morphine tolerance in WT and MOP+/- mice and dasatinib caused its reversal in the latter. The drugs had no significant analgesic effect alone. Dasatinib did not affect morphine preference or locomotor activation. PP2 reduced morphine’s inhibition of sIPSC frequency.

    As c-Src inhibition does not appear to alter the psychomotor effects produced by morphine and it acts to reduce morphine analgesic tolerance. We believe that cSrc is an attractive target to prevent the development of morphine analgesic tolerance without affecting hedonic homeostasis.
    Date of Award2015
    Original languageEnglish
    SponsorsWellcome Trust
    SupervisorTim Hales (Supervisor)


    • Opioid
    • Beta-Arrestin2
    • Ventral tegmental area
    • Pain

    Cite this