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Opioid-induced proliferation of vascular endothelial cells

Authors Leo S, Nuydens R, Meert TF

Published 8 May 2009 Volume 2009:2 Pages 59—66

DOI https://doi.org/10.2147/JPR.S4748


Sandra Leo1,2, Rony Nuydens1, Theo F Meert1

1Pain and Neurology, CNS Department, Johnson and Johnson Pharmaceutical Research and Development, a division of Janssen Pharmaceutica N.V, Beerse, Belgium; 2Laboratory of Biological Psychology, University of Leuven, Leuven, Belgium

Abstract: Angiogenesis is an important issue in cancer research and opioids are often used to treat pain in cancer patients. Therefore it is important to know if the use of opioids is associated with an aberrant stimulation of tumor growth triggered by the stimulation of angiogenesis in cancer patients. Some studies in the literature have suggested the presence of the μ3 opioid receptor, known as the receptor for many opioids, on endothelial cells, which are key players in the process of angiogenesis. In this study we used endothelial cells known to express the μ3 opioid receptor (MOR3), to evaluate the effects of morphine on angiogenesis. We first investigated the effect of morphine on the proliferation of endothelial cells. We showed that morphine is able to stimulate vascular endothelial cell proliferation in vitro. This effect of morphine is mediated by the mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) pathway as pre-treatment with PD98059 inhibited this excessive proliferation. Because previous studies indicated nitric oxide (NO) as a downstream messenger we investigated the role of NO in the aberrant proliferation of endothelial cells. Our data could not confirm these findings using intracellular NO measurements and quantitative fluorescence microscopy. The potential use and pitfalls of opioids in cancer patients is discussed in light of these negative findings.

Keywords: endothelial cells, morphine, cell proliferation, MAPK, nitric oxide, μ3 opioid receptor, angiogenesis

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