Chronic exercise decreases sensitivity to mu opioids in female rats: correlation with exercise output.

Research paper by Mark A MA Smith, Megan A MA Lyle

Indexed on: 15 Aug '06Published on: 15 Aug '06Published in: Pharmacology Biochemistry and Behavior


Aerobic exercise stimulates the release of endogenous opioid peptides and increases nociceptive (i.e., pain) threshold in a naloxone-reversible manner. During chronic exercise, sensitivity to the antinociceptive effects of morphine and other mu opioids decreases, leading some investigators to propose that exercise may lead to the development of cross-tolerance to exogenously administered opioid agonists. The purpose of the present study was to examine the effects of chronic exercise on sensitivity to mu opioids, and to determine if changes in opioid sensitivity during chronic exercise are correlated with exercise output. Eight female rats were obtained at weaning and housed in standard laboratory cages that did not permit any exercise beyond normal cage ambulation. Following 6 weeks under these conditions, opioids possessing a range of relative efficacies at the mu receptor (morphine, levorphanol, buprenorphine, butorphanol) were examined in a warm-water, tail-withdrawal procedure. Under sedentary conditions, all opioids produced dose-dependent increases in tail-withdrawal latencies, and high levels of antinociception were observed for all drugs. Following these tests, rats were reassigned to exercise conditions and transferred to cages equipped with running wheels. Under these conditions, rats ran an average of 7154 rev/day (7869 m/day), with a range across rats from 4501 to 10,164 rev/day (4951-11,180 m/day). Sensitivity to all four opioids decreased significantly during the exercise period, resulting in 2- to 5-fold decreases in the potency of morphine, levorphanol and buprenorphine, and decreases in the effectiveness of buprenorphine and butorphanol. When rats were returned to sedentary conditions, sensitivity to all four opioids increased significantly and returned to that observed prior to the exercise period. For all drugs, there was a positive correlation between exercise output and changes in opioid sensitivity between sedentary and exercise conditions. These data suggest that chronic exercise decreases sensitivity to mu opioids in female rats, and that these changes in sensitivity are positively correlated with exercise output.