Morphine sulfate has long been used for analgesia, but clinical applications can be limited by side effects, tolerance, and potential for addiction at therapeutic doses. An agent that produces therapeutic analgesia when coadministered with low-dose morphine could have important clinical uses. The anticonvulsant agent gabapentin has been identified as having antihyperalgesic properties acting on the α2δ1 subunit of N-type voltage-activated calcium channels on dorsal root ganglia neurons. In this study, intrathecal gabapentin, which by itself is ineffective when administered spinally, was combined with low-dose morphine and tested in an acute bradykinin-induced pancreatitis model in rats.
An intrathecal catheter was surgically inserted into the subarachnoid space of male Sprague-Dawley rats. A laparotomy was performed for ligation and cannulation of the bile-pancreatic duct. Rats were pretreated intrathecally with artificial cerebrospinal fluid, gabapentin, morphine, or combined gabapentin and morphine 30 min before bradykinin injection into the bile-pancreatic duct. Spontaneous behavioral activity (cage crossing, rearing, and hind limb extension) was monitored before drug injection (baseline) and after bradykinin injection into the bile-pancreatic duct to assess visceral pain.
Spinal pretreatment with up to 300 μg gabapentin alone was not effective in reducing hind limb extension in this model, but did restore some cage crossing and rearing behaviors. Spinal treatment with low-dose morphine reduced hind limb extension only. Spinal pretreatment with combined gabapentin and subtherapeutic doses of morphine sulfate resulted in restoration of all spontaneous behaviors to surgical baseline levels including elimination of hind limb extension.
Combined spinal administration of gabapentin and low doses of morphine significantly reduces pain-related behaviors in this acute rat pancreatitis model, whereas these agents were ineffective when used alone in this dose range. These data suggest that the α2δ1 subunit of the N-type voltage-activated Ca2+ channels is involved in transmission of this visceral pain, likely through effects on primary afferent endings in the spinal cord. Thus, gabapentin may be an effective adjuvant to initial low dose spinal opioid therapy for clinical management of visceral pain.