Opioids such as morphine are among the most important tools used to treat pain, however their use is limited due to the development of tolerance and other negative side effects. Cannabinoids such as ?9- tetrahydracannabinol (THC) are also used for pain relief, however their low efficacy and side effects also limit their clinical utility. Opioids and cannabinoids interact in several ways to produce better pain relief than either drug alone. Our preliminary data demonstrate that cannabinoid antinociception is enhanced in morphine-tolerant animals, and that this effect is at least partially mediated by the midbrain periaqueductal gray (PAG). The PAG is critically involved in descending pain modulation and the development of morphine tolerance. The goals of the proposed studies are to elucidate the cellular adaptations that occur in the PAG after the development of opioid tolerance, and determine how these adaptations affect cannabinoid-mediated antinociception and neurotransmission. The following two Specific Aims will address these goals, using in vitro electrophysiology techniques: 1) Determine the cellular mechanisms underlying morphine tolerance-induced enhancement of cannabinoid analgesia in the PAG, and 2) Characterize adaptations in the PAG?s endocannabinoid system after chronic opioid exposure. Experiments in Aims 1 and 2 will employ whole-cell patch clamp techniques to measure changes in synaptic transmission after chronic opioid exposure, and to determine the molecular mechanisms underlying these changes. Behavioural testing in rats will also be employed to assess cannabinoid antinociception, and verify the development of morphine tolerance. The proposed studies will identify the molecular mechanisms underlying the changes that occur following chronic opioid treatment, in a brain region that is critically involved in opioid tolerance. The field of opioid/cannabinoid interaction is still in its infancy, and characterizing the physiology of this system will have a significant impact on the field. Full understanding of this interaction is critical to our long-term goal of identifying cannabinoid-related cellular targets that may be used to overcome tolerance and improve the analgesic efficacy of opioids. Such an innovation could lead to a major advance in clinical pain management.

Public Health Relevance

Opioids such as morphine are among the most important tools used to treat pain, however their use is limited due to the development of tolerance and other negative side effects. The outcomes of this research would provide critical information about how the brain changes after repeated morphine administration. This knowledge could be used to overcome opioid tolerance, improve how these drugs relieve pain, and thus improve the quality of life for people living with pain.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)
Postdoctoral Individual National Research Service Award (F32)
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Special Emphasis Panel (ZRG1)
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Babecki, Beth
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Columbia University (N.Y.)
Schools of Medicine
New York
United States
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Wilson-Poe, Adrianne R; Jeong, Hyo-Jin; Vaughan, Christopher W (2017) Chronic morphine reduces the readily releasable pool of GABA, a presynaptic mechanism of opioid tolerance. J Physiol 595:6541-6555
HipĆ³lito, Lucia; Wilson-Poe, Adrianne; Campos-Jurado, Yolanda et al. (2015) Inflammatory Pain Promotes Increased Opioid Self-Administration: Role of Dysregulated Ventral Tegmental Area ? Opioid Receptors. J Neurosci 35:12217-31
Wilson-Poe, A R; Lau, B K; Vaughan, C W (2015) Repeated morphine treatment alters cannabinoid modulation of GABAergic synaptic transmission within the rat periaqueductal grey. Br J Pharmacol 172:681-90