Extracellular signal-regulated kinase 1/2 activation counteracts morphine tolerance in the periaqueductal gray of the rat

Tara A. Macey, Erin N. Bobeck, Deborah M. Hegarty, Sue A. Aicher, Susan Ingram, Michael M. Morgan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

43 Scopus citations


Repeated administration of opioids produces long-lasting changes in μ-opioid receptor (MOR) signaling that underlie behavioral changes such as tolerance. Mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) pathways, including MAPK extracellular signal-regulated kinases (ERK1/2), are modulated by opioids and are known to produce long-lasting changes in cell signaling. Thus, we tested the hypothesis that ERK1/2 activation contributes to the development and/or expression of morphine tolerance mediated by the periaqueductal gray (PAG). Changes in phosphorylated ERK1/2 expression were assessed with confocal microscopy and compared to behavioral measures of tolerance to the antinociceptive effects of chronic morphine administration. Repeated microinjection of morphine into the PAG produced tolerance and caused a significant increase in ERK1/2 phosphorylation, an effect not evident with acute morphine microinjection. Microinjection of the MAPK/ERK kinase inhibitor, 1,4-diamino-2,3-dicyano-1,4-bis(o-aminophenylmercapto) butadiene ethanolate (U0126), into the PAG had no effect on antinociception produced by acute morphine administration. However, repeated coadministration of U0126 and morphine into the PAG blocked ERK1/2 phosphorylation and enhanced the development of morphine tolerance. Coadministration of U0126 with morphine only on the test day also enhanced the expression of morphine tolerance. Administration of the irreversible opioid receptor antagonist β-chlornaltrexamine blocked the activation of ERK1/2 caused by repeated morphine microinjections, demonstrating that ERK1/2 activation was a MOR-mediated event. In summary, these studies show that chronic morphine administration alters ERK1/2 signaling and that disruption of ERK1/2 signaling enhances both the development and expression of morphine tolerance. Contrary to expectations, these data indicate that ERK1/2 activation opposes the development of morphine tolerance.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)412-418
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics
Issue number2
StatePublished - Nov 2009

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Medicine
  • Pharmacology


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