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Increased methylation of the MOR gene proximal promoter in primary sensory neurons plays a crucial role in the decreased analgesic effect of opioids in neuropathic pain

Xue-Long Zhou1, Li-Na Yu1, Yin Wang2, Li-Hui Tang2, Yu-Nan Peng1, Jun-Li Cao2 and Min Yan12*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Anesthesiology, The Second Affiliated Hospital, School of Medicine, Zhejiang University, Hangzhou, China

2 Jiangsu Province Key Laboratory of Anesthesilogy, Xuzhou Medical College, Xu Zhou, China

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Molecular Pain 2014, 10:51  doi:10.1186/1744-8069-10-51

Published: 13 August 2014



The analgesic potency of opioids is reduced in neuropathic pain. However, the molecular mechanism is not well understood.


The present study demonstrated that increased methylation of the Mu opioid receptor (MOR) gene proximal promoter (PP) in dorsal root ganglion (DRG) plays a crucial role in the decreased morphine analgesia. Subcutaneous (s.c.), intrathecal (i.t.) and intraplantar (, not intracerebroventricular (i.c.v.) injection of morphine, the potency of morphine analgesia was significantly reduced in nerve-injured mice compared with control sham-operated mice. After peripheral nerve injury, we observed a decreased expression of MOR protein and mRNA, accompanied by an increased methylation status of MOR gene PP, in DRG. However, peripheral nerve injury could not induce a decreased expression of MOR mRNA in the spinal cord. Treatment with 5-aza-2′-deoxycytidine (5-aza-dC), inhibited the increased methylation of MOR gene PP and prevented the decreased expression of MOR in DRG, thereby improved systemic, spinal and periphery morphine analgesia.


Altogether, our results demonstrate that increased methylation of the MOR gene PP in DRG is required for the decreased morphine analgesia in neuropathic pain.

Neuropathic pain; Epigenetics; Opioids