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Ultra-Low Dose Naltrexone - eight reference with abstracts, 1992 - 2001.

Compiled by Alexander DeLuca, M.D.  Originally posted: 1/15,/2002. Minor page re-formatting: 6/27/2004. Medline Search - Table of Contents page.

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Crain SM; Shen KF
Cholera toxin-B subunit blocks excitatory opioid receptor-mediated hyperalgesic effects in mice, thereby unmasking potent opioid analgesia and attenuating opioid tolerance/dependence
Brain Res 2001 Nov 16 ;919(1):20-30

ABSTRACT - In a previous study we demonstrated that injection (i.p.) of low doses of GM1 ganglioside in mice rapidly attenuates morphine's analgesic effects. This result is consonant with our electrophysiologic studies in nociceptive types of dorsal root ganglion (DRG) neurons in culture, which showed that exogenous GM1 rapidly increased the efficacy of excitatory (Gs-coupled) opioid receptor functions. By contrast, treatment of DRG neurons with the non-toxic B-subunit of cholera toxin (CTX-B) which binds selectively to GM1, blocked the excitatory, but not inhibitory, effects of morphine and other bimodally-acting opioid agonists, thereby resulting in a net increase in inhibitory opioid potency. The present study provides more direct evidence that endogenous GM1 plays a physiologic role in regulating excitatory opioid receptor functions in vivo by demonstrating that cotreatment with remarkably low doses of CTX-B (10 ng/kg, s.c.) selectively blocks hyperalgesic effects elicited by morphine or by a kappa opioid agonist, thereby unmasking potent opioid analgesia. These results are comparable to the effects of cotreatment of mice with morphine plus an ultra-low dose of the opioid antagonist, naltrexone (NTX) which blocks opioid-induced hyperalgesic effects, unmasking potent opioid analgesia. Low-dose NTX selectively blocks excitatory opioid receptors at their recognition site, whereas CTX-B binds to, and interferes with, a putative allosteric GM1 regulatory site on excitatory opioid receptors. Furthermore, chronic cotreatment of mice with morphine plus CTX-B attenuates development of opioid tolerance and physical dependence, as previously shown to occur during cotreatment with low-dose NTX.

Crain SM; Shen KF
Acute thermal hyperalgesia elicited by low-dose morphine in normal mice is blocked by ultra-low-dose naltrexone, unmasking potent opioid analgesia
Brain Res 2001 Jan 5 ;888(1):75-82

ABSTRACT - Our previous electrophysiologic studies on nociceptive types of dorsal root ganglion (DRG) neurons in culture demonstrated that extremely low fM-nM concentrations of morphine and many other bimodally-acting mu, delta and kappa opioid agonists can elicit direct excitatory opioid receptor-mediated effects, whereas higher (microM) opioid concentrations evoked inhibitory effects. Cotreatment with pM naloxone or naltrexone (NTX) plus fM-nM morphine blocked the excitatory effects and unmasked potent inhibitory effects of these low opioid concentrations. In the present study, hot-water-immersion tail-flick antinociception assays at 52 degrees C on mice showed that extremely low doses of morphine (ca. 0.1 microg/kg) can, in fact, elicit acute hyperalgesic effects, manifested by rapid onset of decreases in tail- flick latency for periods >3 h after drug administration. Cotreatment with ultra-low-dose NTX (ca. 1-100 pg/kg) blocks this opioid-induced hyperalgesia and unmasks potent opioid analgesia. The consonance of our in vitro and in vivo evidence indicates that doses of morphine far below those currently required for clinical treatment of pain may become effective when opioid hyperalgesic effects are blocked by coadministration of appropriately low doses of opioid antagonists. This low-dose-morphine cotreatment procedure should markedly attenuate morphine tolerance, dependence and other aversive side-effects

Crain SM; Shen KF
Enhanced analgesic potency and reduced tolerance of morphine in 129/SvEv mice: evidence for a deficiency in GM1 ganglioside-regulated excitatory opioid receptor functions
Brain Res 2000 Feb 21 ;856(1-2):227-235

AB - 10-fold higher doses in SW mice. Furthermore, cotreatment of 129/SvEv mice with morphine plus a low dose of naltrexone (ca. 0.1 microgram/kg) that markedly enhances and prolongs morphine's antinociceptive effects in SW mice did not enhance, and often attenuated6 h. The marked GM1- induced attenuation of morphine's antinociceptive effects in 129/SvEv mice may be due to conversion of some of the opioid receptors in these mice from an inhibitory Gi/Go-coupled to an excitatory Gs-coupled mode. Exogenous GM1 supplementation can, therefore, reverse the anomalous lack of morphine tolerance displayed by this mouse strain in comparison to SW and other mice. The present study may provide insights into factors that regulate the marked variability in nociceptive sensitivity and opioid tolerance/dependence liability among individual humans


Crain SM; Shen KF
Antagonists of excitatory opioid receptor functions enhance morphine's analgesic potency and attenuate opioid tolerance/dependence liability
Brain Res 2000 Feb 21 ;856(1-2):227-235

ABSTRACT - Recent preclinical and clinical studies have demonstrated that cotreatments with extremely low doses of opioid receptor antagonists can markedly enhance the efficacy and specificity of morphine and related opioid analgesics. Our correlative studies of the cotreatment of nociceptive types of dorsal-root ganglion neurons in vitro and mice in vivo with morphine plus specific opioid receptor antagonists have shown that antagonism of Gs-coupled excitatory opioid receptor functions by cotreatment with ultra-low doses of clinically available opioid antagonists, e.g. naloxone and naltrexone, markedly enhances morphine's antinociceptive potency and simultaneously attenuates opioid tolerance and dependence. These preclinical studies in vitro and in vivo provide cellular mechanisms that can readily account for the unexpected enhancement of morphine's analgesic potency in recent clinical studies of post-surgical pain patients cotreated with morphine plus low doses of naloxone or nalmefene. The striking consistency of these multidisciplinary studies on nociceptive neurons in culture, behavioral assays on mice and clinical trials on post-surgical pain patients indicates that clinical treatment of pain can, indeed, be significantly improved by administering morphine or other conventional opioid analgesics together with appropriately low doses of an excitatory opioid receptor antagonist

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Shen KF;  Crain SM
Ultra-low doses of naltrexone or etorphine increase morphine's antinociceptive potency and attenuate tolerance/dependence in mice
SO - Brain Res 1997 May 23 ;757(2):176-190

ABSTRACT - In previous studies we showed that low (pM) concentrations of naloxone (NLX), naltrexone (NTX) or etorphine selectively antagonize excitatory, but not inhibitory, opioid receptor-mediated functions in nociceptive types of sensory neurons in culture. Cotreatment of these neurons with pM NTX or etorphine not only results in marked enhancement of the inhibitory potency of acutely applied nM morphine [or other bimodally- acting (inhibitory/excitatory) opioid agonists], but also prevents development of cellular manifestations of tolerance and dependence during chronic exposure to microM morphine. These in vitro studies were confirmed in vivo by demonstrating that acute cotreatment of mice with morphine plus a remarkably low dose of NTX (ca. 10 ng/kg) does, in fact, enhance the antinociceptive potency of morphine, as measured by hot-water tail-flick assays. Furthermore, chronic cotreatment of mice with morphine plus low doses of NTX markedly attenuates development of naloxone-precipitated withdrawal-jumping in physical dependence assays. The present study provides systematic dose-response analyses indicating that NTX elicited optimal enhancement of morphine's antinociceptive potency in mice when co-administered (i.p.) at about 100 ng/kg together with morphine (3 mg/kg). Doses of NTX as low as 1 ng/kg or as high as 1 microg/kg were still effective, but to a lesser degree. Oral administration of NTX in the drinking water of mice was equally effective as i.p. injections in enhancing the antinociceptive potency of acute morphine injections and even more effective in attenuating development of tolerance and NLX-precipitated withdrawal-jumping during chronic cotreatment. Cotreatment with a subanalgesic dose of etorphine (10 ng/kg) was equally effective as NTX in enhancing morphine's antinociceptive potency and attenuating withdrawal-jumping after chronic exposure. These studies provide a rationale for the clinical use of ultra-low-dose NTX or etorphine so as to increase the antinociceptive potency while attenuating the tolerance/dependence liability of morphine or other conventional bimodally-acting opioid analgesics


Crain SM; Shen KF
Modulatory effects of Gs-coupled excitatory opioid receptor functions on opioid analgesia, tolerance, and dependence
Neurochem Res 1996 Nov ;21(11):1347-1351

ABSTRACT - Electrophysiologic studies of opioid effects on nociceptive types of dorsal root ganglion (DRG) neurons in organotypic cultures have shown that morphine and most mu, delta, and kappa opioid agonists can elicit bimodal excitatory as well as inhibitory modulation of the action potential duration (APD) of these cells. Excitatory opioid effects have been shown to be mediated by opioid receptors that are coupled via Gs to cyclic AMP-dependent ionic conductances that prolong the APD, whereas inhibitory opioid effects are mediated by opioid receptors coupled via Gi/Go to ionic conductances that shorten the APD. Selective blockade of excitatory opioid receptor functions by low (ca. pM) concentrations of naloxone, naltrexone, etorphine and other specific agents markedly increases the inhibitory potency of morphine or other bimodally acting agonists and attenuates development of tolerance/dependence. These in vitro studies have been confirmed by tail-flick assays showing that acute co-treatment of mice with morphine plus ultra-low-dose naltrexone or etorphine remarkably enhances the antinociceptive potency of morphine whereas chronic co-treatment attenuates development of tolerance and naloxone-precipitated withdrawal-jumping symptoms


Crain SM; Shen KF
Ultra-low concentrations of naloxone selectively antagonize excitatory effects of morphine on sensory neurons, thereby increasing its antinociceptive potency and attenuating tolerance/dependence during chronic cotreatment
Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 1995 Nov 7 ;92(23):10540-10544

ABSTRACT - Ultra-low picomolar concentrations of the opioid antagonists naloxone (NLX) and naltrexone (NTX) have remarkably potent antagonist actions on excitatory opioid receptor functions in mouse dorsal root ganglion (DRG) neurons, whereas higher nanomolar concentrations antagonize excitatory and inhibitory opioid functions. Pretreatment of naive nociceptive types of DRG neurons with picomolar concentrations of either antagonist blocks excitatory prolongation of the Ca(2+)- dependent component of the action potential duration (APD) elicited by picomolar-nanomolar morphine and unmasks inhibitory APD shortening. The present study provides a cellular mechanism to account for previous reports that low doses of NLX and NTX paradoxically enhance, instead of attenuate, the analgesic effects of morphine and other opioid agonists. Furthermore, chronic cotreatment of DRG neurons with micromolar morphine plus picomolar NLX or NTX prevents the development of (i) tolerance to the inhibitory APD-shortening effects of high concentrations of morphine and (ii) supersensitivity to the excitatory APD-prolonging effects of nanomolar NLX as well as of ultra-low (femtomolar-picomolar) concentrations of morphine and other opioid agonists. These in vitro studies suggested that ultra-low doses of NLX or NTX that selectively block the excitatory effects of morphine may not only enhance the analgesic potency of morphine and other bimodally acting opioid agonists but also markedly attenuate their dependence liability. Subsequent correlative studies have now demonstrated that cotreatment of mice with morphine plus ultra-low-dose NTX does, in fact, enhance the antinociceptive potency of morphine in tail-flick assays and attenuate development of withdrawal symptoms in chronic, as well as acute, physical dependence assays

Crain SM; Shen KF
Chronic selective activation of excitatory opioid receptor functions in sensory neurons results in opioid 'dependence' without tolerance
Brain Res 1992 ;597():74-83

ABSTRACT - We previously showed that mouse sensory dorsal root ganglion (DRG) neurons chronically exposed to 1 microM D-ala2-D-leu5- enkephalin (DADLE) or morphine for : 2-3 days in culture become tolerant to the usual opioid inhibitory receptor-mediated effects, i.e. shortening of the duration of the calcium-dependent component of the action potential (APD), and supersensitive to opioid excitatory APD-prolonging effects elicited by low opioid concentrations. Whereas nanomolar concentrations of dynorphin(1- 13) or morphine are generally required to prolong the APD of naive DRG neurons (by activating excitatory opioid receptors), femtomolar levels become effective after chronic opioid treatment. Whereas 1-30 nM naloxone or diprenorphine prevent both excitatory and inhibitory opioid effects but do not alter the APD of native DRG neurons, both opioid antagonists unexpectedly prolong the APD of most of the chronic opioid-treated cells. In the present study, chronic exposure of DRG neurons to 1 microM DADLE together with cholera toxin-B subunit (which selectively blocks GM1 ganglioside-regulated opioid excitatory, but not inhibitory, receptor functions) prevented the development of opioid excitatory supersensitivity and markedly attenuated tolerance to opioid inhibitory effects. Conversely, sustained exposure of DRG neurons to 1 nM DADLE, which selectively activates excitatory opioid receptor functions, resulted in characteristic opioid excitatory supersensitivity but no tolerance. These results suggest that 'dependence'-like properties can be induced in chronic opioid-treated sensory neurons in the absence of tolerance. On the other hand, development of some components of tolerance in these cells may require sustained activation of both excitatory, as well as inhibitory, opioid receptor functions


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Dr. DeLuca's Addiction, Pain, and Public Health Website

Alexander DeLuca, M.D., FASAM.

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Originally posted:  1/15/2002

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