Respiratory depression is the major cause of death in opioid overdose. We have previously shown that prolonged treatment of mice with morphine induces profound tolerance to the respiratory-depressant effects of the drug (Hill et al., 2016). The aim of the present study was to investigate whether tolerance to opioid-induced respiratory depression is mediated by protein kinase C (PKC) and/or c-Jun N-terminal kinase (JNK). We found that although mice treated for up to 6 days with morphine developed tolerance, as measured by the reduced responsiveness to an acute challenge dose of morphine, administration of the brain-penetrant PKC inhibitors tamoxifen and calphostin C restored the ability of acute morphine to produce respiratory depression in morphine-treated mice. Importantly, reversal of opioid tolerance was dependent on the nature of the opioid ligand used to induce tolerance, as these PKC inhibitors did not reverse tolerance induced by prolonged treatment of mice with methadone nor did they reverse the protection to acute morphine-induced respiratory depression afforded by prolonged treatment with buprenorphine. We found no evidence for the involvement of JNK in morphine-induced tolerance to respiratory depression. These results indicate that PKC represents a major mechanism underlying morphine tolerance, that the mechanism of opioid tolerance to respiratory depression is ligand-dependent, and that coadministration of drugs with PKC-inhibitory activity and morphine (as well as heroin, largely metabolized to morphine in the body) may render individuals more susceptible to overdose death by reversing tolerance to the effects of morphine.
- Received October 13, 2016.
- Accepted January 25, 2017.
↵1 Current affiliation: Harvard Medical School, McLean Hospital, Belmont, Massachusetts.
↵2 S.L.W. and R.H. should be considered joint first authors.
This work was supported by the National Institutes of Health National Institute on Drug Abuse [Grant RO1036975-01].
- Copyright © 2017 by The American Society for Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics