Central metabolism as a potential origin of sex differences in morphine analgesia but not in the induction of analgesic tolerance in mice

"In rodents, morphine analgesia is influenced by sex. However, conflicting results exist regarding the interaction between sex and morphine analgesic tolerance. Morphine is metabolized in the liver and brain into morphine-3-glucuronide (M3G). Sex differences in morphine metabolism and differential metabolic adaptations during tolerance development might explain the behavioral discrepancies. The present article investigates the differences in peripheral and central morphine metabolism after acute and chronic morphine treatment in male and female mice.

The first experiment aimed to determine whether morphine analgesia and tolerance differ between male and female mice using the tail-immersion test. The second experiment evaluated morphine and M3G metabolic kinetics in the blood using LC-MS/MS. Morphine and M3G were also quantified in several central nervous system (CNS) regions after acute and chronic morphine treatment. Finally, the blood-brain barrier permeability of M3G was assessed in male and female mice.

This study demonstrated that female mice showed weaker morphine analgesia. In addition, tolerance appeared earlier in females but the sex discrepancies observed seemed to be due to the initial differences in morphine analgesia rather than to sex-specific mechanisms involving metabolism. Additionally, compared to male mice, female mice showed higher levels of M3G in the blood and in several CNS regions, whereas lower levels of morphine were observed in these brain regions. These differences are attributable mainly to morphine central metabolism, which differed between males and females in pain-related brain regions, consistent with the weaker analgesic effect in females. However, the role of morphine metabolism in analgesic tolerance seems rather limited."


Florian Gabel, Volodya Hovhannisyan, Virginie Andry, Yannick Goumon

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