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The Effect of Propofol on Intrathecal Morphine-Induced Pruritus and Its Mechanism

Liu, Xiulan MD; Zhang, Jing MD; Zhao, Hongyan MD; Mei, Hongxia MD; Lian, Qingquan MD; ShangGuan, WangNing MD

doi: 10.1213/ANE.0000000000000086
Anesthetic Pharmacology: Research Report

BACKGROUND: Previous studies have shown that a low dose of propofol IV bolus had a beneficial effect on intrathecal morphine-induced pruritus in humans. However, its exact mechanism has not been fully understood. In this study, we hypothesized that propofol relieved intrathecal morphine-induced pruritus in rats by upregulating the expression of cannabinoid-1 (CB[1]) receptors in anterior cingulate cortex (ACC).

METHODS: Twenty-four Sprague-Dawley rats were divided into a control group and 20, 40, 80 μg/kg morphine groups to create an intrathecal morphine-induced scratching model. The effects of propofol on intrathecal 40 μg/kg morphine-induced scratching responses were then evaluated. Sixty rats were randomly assigned to control, normal saline, intralipid, and propofol groups, with pruritus behavior observation or killed 8 minutes after venous injection of normal saline, intralipid, or propofol, and brain tissues were then collected for assay. Immunohistochemistry was then performed to identify the expression of CB (1) receptor in ACC, and the concentration of CB(1) receptor in ACC was determined by Western blot analysis.

RESULTS: Compared with the control group, rats in the 20, 40, 80 μg/kg morphine groups had higher mean scratching response rates after intrathecal morphine injection (P =0.020, 0.005, and 0.002, respectively). There was a statistical difference between 20 and 40 μg/kg morphine groups at 10 to 15 and 15 to 20 timepoints after intrathecal morphine injection (P = 0.049 and 0.017, respectively). Propofol almost abolished the scratching response that was induced by 40 μg/kg intrathecal morphine injection (F[2, 15] = 46.87, P < 0.001; F[22, 165] = 2.37, P = 0.001). Compared with the intralipid and normal saline groups, the scratching behavior was significantly attenuated in the propofol group (P < 0.001). Compared with control, normal saline, and intralipid groups, the protein expression of CB(1) receptor in ACC (Western blot) in the propofol group increased (0.86 ± 0.21, 0.94 ± 0.18, 0.86 ± 0.13, and 1.34 ± 0.32, respectively, P < 0.001). There was no significant difference among control, normal saline, and intralipid groups. Compared with the control, normal saline, and intralipid groups, the average number of neurons of CB(1) receptor in the ACC area were higher in the propofol group (21.0 ± 1.4, 19.3 ± 1.8, 24.8 ± 7.7, and 37.2 ± 3.3, respectively, P < 0.001).

CONCLUSIONS: Morphine elicits dose-independent scratching responses after intrathecal injection in rats. Morphine 40 μg/kg intrathecal injection-induced scratching responses can be prevented by propofol. Increased protein expression of CB(1) receptors in ACC may contribute to the reversal of intrathecal morphine-induced scratching.

From the Department of Anesthesiology, the 2nd Affiliated Hospital of WenZhou Medical College, Wenzhou, China.

Accepted for publication October 25, 2013.

Funding: This study was financially supported by Science & Technology Projects from Science & Technology Bureau of WenZhou city (No. H20110011).

Drs. Xiulan Liu and Jing Zhang are cofirst authors and contributed equally to this study.

The authors declare no conflicts of interest.

Reprints will not be available from the authors.

Address correspondence to WangNing ShangGuan, MD, Department of Anesthesiology, the 2nd Affiliated Hospital of WenZhou Medical College, China. Address e-mail to

© 2014 International Anesthesia Research Society