Mu-opioid-receptor antagonists have been extensively studied in experimental research as pharmacological tools uncovering mechanisms of pain modulation by the endogenous opioid system. In rodents, administration of high doses of mu-opioid-receptor antagonists after the resolution of an inflammatory injury has demonstrated reinstatement of nociceptive hypersensitivity indicating unmasking of latent sensitization. In a recent human study, pain hypersensitivity assessed as secondary hyperalgesia area (SHA), was reinstated 7 days after a mild thermal injury, in 4 out of 12 subjects after a naloxone infusion.

The aims of the present study are first, to replicate our previous findings in a larger-sized study; second, to examine if high sensitizers (subjects presenting with large SHA after a thermal injury) develop a higher degree of hypersensitivity after naloxone challenge than low sensitizers (subjects presenting with restricted SHA after a thermal injury); and third to examine a dose–response relationship between 3 stable naloxone concentrations controlled by target-controlled infusion, and the unmasking of latent sensitization.

Healthy participants (n = 80) underwent a screening day (day 0) with induction of a thermal skin injury (47°C, 420 seconds, 12.5 cm2). Assessment of SHA was performed 1 and 2 hours after the injury. Using an enriched design, only participants belonging to the upper quartile of SHA (Q4, high sensitizers; n = 20) and the lower quartile of SHA (Q1, low sensitizers; n = 20) continued the study, comprising 4 consecutive days—days 1 to 4. Thermal skin injuries were repeated on day 1 and day 3, whereas day 2 and day 4 (7 days after day 1 and day 3, respectively) were target-controlled infusion days in which the subjects were randomly allocated to receive either naloxone (3.25 mg/kg, 4 mg/mL) or placebo (normal saline) intravenous. The primary outcome was SHA assessed by weighted-pin instrument (128 mN) 0, 1, 2, and 165 to 169 hours after the thermal injury (day 1–4). The secondary outcomes were pin-prick pain thresholds assessed by weighted-pin instrument (8–512 mN) at primary and secondary hyperalgesia areas (days 1–4).

The naloxone-induced unmasking of latent sensitization is an interesting model for exploring the transition from acute to chronic pain. The results from the present study may provide valuable information regarding future research in persistent postsurgical pain states.

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Notes/Citation Information

Published in Medicine, v. 95, issue 46, e5336, p. 1-8.

Copyright © 2016 the Author(s). Published by Wolters Kluwer Health, Inc. All rights reserved.

This material is licensed under the terms of the Open Government Licence except where otherwise stated. To view this licence, visit http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/doc/open-government-licence/version/3 or write to the Information Policy Team, The National Archives, Kew, London, TW9 4DU, or e-mail: psi@nationalarchives.gsi.gov.uk.

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Funding Information

This study is supported by the United States National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant number DA37621 to BKT and MUW. The study is also supported by the Aase og Ejnar Danielsens Fond, Brødrene Hartmanns Fond and Augustinus Fonden to MUW.