Abstract: Pain affects both sensory and emotional aversive responses, often provoking depression and anxiety-related conditions when it becomes chronic. As the opioid receptors in the locus coeruleus (LC) have been implicated in pain, stress responses, and opioid drug effects, we explored the modifications to LC opioid neurotransmission in a chronic constriction injury (CCI) model of short- and long-term neuropathic pain (7 and 30 days after nerve injury). No significant changes were found after short-term CCI, yet after 30 days, CCI provoked an up-regulation of cAMP (cyclic 5'-adenosine monophosphate), pCREB (phosphorylated cAMP response element binding protein), protein kinase A, tyrosine hydroxylase, and electrical activity in the LC, as well as enhanced c-Fos expression. Acute mu opioid receptor desensitization was more intense in these animals, measured as the decline of the peak current caused by [Met5]-enkephalin and the reduction of forskolin-stimulated cAMP produced in response to DAMGO. Sustained morphine treatment did not markedly modify certain LC parameters in CCI-30d animals, such as [Met5]-enkephalin-induced potassium outward currents or burst activity and c-Fos rebound after naloxone precipitation, which may limit the development of some typical opioid drug-related adaptations. However, other phenomena were impaired by long-term CCI, including the reduction in forskolin-stimulated cAMP accumulation by DAMGO after naloxone precipitation in morphine dependent animals. Overall, this study suggests that long-term CCI leads to changes at the LC level that may contribute to the anxiodepressive phenotype that develops in these animals. Furthermore, opioid drugs produce complex adaptations in the LC in this model of chronic neuropathic pain.
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