Opiates are essential for treating pain, but termination of opiate therapy can cause a debilitating withdrawal syndrome in chronic users. To alleviate or avoid the aversive symptoms of withdrawal, many of these individuals continue to use opiates. Withdrawal is therefore a key determinant of opiate use in dependent individuals, yet its underlying mechanisms are poorly understood and effective therapies are lacking. Here, we identify the pannexin-1 (Panx1) channel as a therapeutic target in opiate withdrawal. We show that withdrawal from morphine induces long-term synaptic facilitation in lamina I and II neurons within the rodent spinal dorsal horn, a principal site of action for opiate analgesia. Genetic ablation of Panx1 in microglia abolished the spinal synaptic facilitation and ameliorated the sequelae of morphine withdrawal. Panx1 is unique in its permeability to molecules up to 1 kDa in size and its release of ATP. We show that Panx1 activation drives ATP release from microglia during morphine withdrawal and that degrading endogenous spinal ATP by administering apyrase produces a reduction in withdrawal behaviors. Conversely, we found that pharmacological inhibition of ATP breakdown exacerbates withdrawal. Treatment with a Panx1-blocking peptide (
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