Persistent use of prescription opioids beyond the period of surgical recovery is a large part of a public health problem linked to the current opioid crisis in the United States. However, few studies have been conducted to examine whether morphine reward is influenced by acute pain and injury.
In a mouse model of incisional injury and minor trauma, animals underwent conditioning, extinction, and drug-primed reinstatement with morphine to examine the rewarding properties of morphine in the presence of acute incisional injury and drug-induced relapse, respectively. In addition, we sought to determine whether these behaviors were influenced by kappa opioid receptor signaling and measured expression of prodynorphin messenger RNA in the nucleus accumbens and medial prefrontal cortex after conditioning and before reinstatement with morphine and incisional injury.
In the presence of incisional injury, we observed enhancement of morphine reward with morphine-conditioned place preference but attenuated morphine-primed reinstatement to reward. This adaptation was not present in animals conditioned 12 days after incisional injury when nociceptive sensitization had resolved; however, they showed enhancement of morphine-primed reinstatement. Prodynorphin expression was greatly enhanced in the nucleus accumbens and medial prefrontal cortex of mice with incisional injury and morphine conditioning and remained elevated up to drug-primed reinstatement. These changes were not observed in mice conditioned 12 days after incisional injury. Further, kappa opioid receptor blockade with norbinaltorphimine before reinstatement reversed the attenuation induced by injury.
These findings suggest enhancement of morphine reward as a result of incisional injury but paradoxically a protective adaptation with incisional injury from drug-induced relapse resulting from kappa opioid receptor activation in the reward circuitry. Remote injury conferred no such protection and appeared to enhance reinstatement.