The European journal of neuroscience

Tolerance to non-opioid analgesics in PAG involves unresponsiveness of medullary pain-modulating neurons in male rats.

PMID 19302154


Opiate analgesia can be hampered by a reduction in pharmacological effectiveness (tolerance), and this crucially depends on the periaqueductal gray matter (PAG). Non-opioids like metamizol (dipyrone) or aspirin also induce PAG-dependent analgesia and tolerance, but the neuronal bases of this tolerance are unknown. Metamizol is a pyrazolon derivative and cyclooxygenase inhibitor with widespread use as an analgesic in Europe and Latin America. Metamizol was microinjected into the PAG of awake male rats, and antinociception was assessed by the tail flick (TF) and hot plate (HP) tests. Microinjection twice daily for 2.5 days caused tolerance to metamizol. The rats were then anesthetized and recordings from pain-facilitating on-cells and pain-inhibiting off-cells of the rostral ventromedial medulla (RVM) were performed. PAG microinjection of morphine or metamizol depresses on-cells, activates off-cells and thus inhibits nociception, including TF and HP. In metamizol-tolerant rats, however, PAG microinjection of metamizol failed to affect on- or off-cells, and this is interpreted as the reason for tolerance. In metamizol-tolerant rats morphine microinjection into PAG also failed to affect RVM neurons or nociception (cross-tolerance). In naïve, non-tolerant rats the antinociceptive effect of PAG-microinjected metamizol or morphine was blocked when CTOP, a mu-opioid antagonist, was previously microinjected into the same PAG site. These results emphasize a close relationship between opioid and non-opioid analgesic mechanisms in the PAG and show that, like morphine, tolerance to metamizol involves a failure of on- and off-cells to, respectively, disfacilitate and inhibit nociception. Cross-tolerance between non-opioid and opioid analgesics should be important in the clinical setting.

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CTOP, ≥97% (HPLC)