, Volume 61, Issue 23, pp 2991-2997

Morphine but not fentanyl and methadone affects mitochondrial membrane potential by inducing nitric oxide release in glioma cells

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We have observed that treatment of human glioma cells with morphine in the nanomolar range of concentration affects the mitochondrial membrane potential. The effect is specific to morphine and is mediated by naloxone-sensitive receptors, and is thus better observed on glioma cells treated with desipramine; moreover, the mitochondrial impairment is not inducible by fentanyl or methadone treatment and is prevented by the nitric oxide (NO) synthase inhibitor L-NAME. We conclude that in cultured glioma cells, the morphine-induced NO release decreases the mitochondrial membrane potential, as one might expect based on the rapid inhibition of the respiratory chain by NO. The identification of new intra-cellular pathways involved in the mechanism of action of morphine opens additional hypotheses, providing a novel rationale relevant to the therapy and toxicology of opioids.

Received 19 August 2004; received after revision 16 September 2004; accepted 7 October 2004