Within 3-4 weeks after spinal transection, morphine-induced antinociception, assessed with the tail flick reflex in rats, is profoundly reduced. The cause of this decrement is unknown. The present studies were conducted to determine whether this phenomenon reflects a general loss in opiate activity or a selective decline in opiate antinociception. This was accomplished by assessing the effect of morphine on two different responses, the tail flick reflex and the hindlimb spasticity that develops in chronic spinal rats. Because excitatory amino acid antagonists are also antinociceptive in acute spinal rats, the effect of one such drug, dextrorphan, on these two behaviors was also evaluated in chronic spinal animals. The antinociceptive and antispastic effect of subcutaneous (6 mg/kg) and intrathecal (5 μg) morphine injections were assessed in intact and chronic (21-28 days) spinal rats, whereas the effect of subcutaneous (25 and 40 mg/kg) and intrathecal (350 μg) dextrorphan was assessed in acute (1 day) and chronic spinal rats. The antinociceptive effect of both drugs was significantly reduced in chronic spinal animals, relative to saline controls. However, each drug treatment produced a significant antispastic effect in the same animals, indicating a selective decline in opiate action. This outcome also suggests that excitatory amino acid antagonists may be useful as adjunct antispastic agents.
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