Changes in mu opioid receptors and rheological properties of erythrocytes among opioid abusers.


Journal Article

Opioids, reported originally to bind to specific receptors in the brain, now also appear to bind to receptors on blood cells. The high prevalence of anemia among chronic opioid users leads us to propose that chronic opiate use results in elevated mu opioid receptor levels on human erythrocytes and that these receptor changes may affect erythrocyte membrane properties. Blood samples from 17 opioid-dependent subjects (based on the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th edition or DSM-IV) and 15 drug-free controls were assayed for mu opioid receptors on erythrocytes using a flow cytometry immunoassay. Deformability and the hydration status of erythrocytes were studied by ektacytometry. Data were analyzed by independent t-tests, tests of correlation, chi square and cluster analyses. As expected, the percentage of erythrocytes from opioid-dependent subjects with opioid receptors (opioid receptor levels) was significantly higher (47.4 +/- 38.3%) than controls (22.8 +/- 30.1%) (t = 2.01, df = 30, p < 0.05). Also, the opioid-dependent patients showed a wide variation in the percentage of erythrocytes bearing opioid receptors and data analyses of these patients showed two strongly defined clusters. One subgroup consisted of nine individuals with very high receptor levels (mean = 81.5%) while the other had eight patients with low receptor levels (mean = 9.1%) that were not significantly different than the receptor levels of controls. Ektacytometry of opioid dependent patients with high opioid receptor levels showed changes in rheological parameters of erythrocytes, such as deformability index and cellular hydration. For example, a positive correlation was observed between opioid receptor levels and deformability indices among opioid-dependent patients (r = 0.74, p < 0.005). Our findings indicate that the mu opioid receptor is present on human erythrocytes, although with considerable variation in receptor levels, and that the levels of this receptor are significantly elevated with chronic opioid exposure. Moreover, erythrocytes with high opioid receptor levels from chronic opiate users seem to have high deformability. This study may offer clues to the biological properties of peripheral blood cells that may be mediated by mu opioid receptors and lead to a better understanding of some of the clinical effects of opioid use.

Full Text

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • Zeiger, AR; Patkar, AA; Fitzgerald, R; Lundy, A; Ballas, SK; Weinstein, SP

Published Date

  • April 2002

Published In

Volume / Issue

  • 7 / 2

Start / End Page

  • 207 - 217

PubMed ID

  • 12006216

Pubmed Central ID

  • 12006216

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)

  • 1355-6215

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

  • 10.1080/135562102200120433


  • eng

Conference Location

  • United States