Morphine withdrawal stress modulates lipopolysaccharide-induced interleukin 12 p40 (IL-12p40) expression by activating extracellular signal-regulated kinase 1/2, which is further potentiated by glucocorticoids

Subhas Das, Jennifer Kelschenbach, Richard Charboneau, Roderick A. Barke, Sabita Roy

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Withdrawal stress is a common occurrence in opioid users, yet very few studies have examined the effects of morphine withdrawal (MW) on immune functioning or the role of glucocorticoids in MW-induced immunomodulation. This study investigated for the first time the role of glucocorticoids in MW modulation of LPS-induced IL-12p40, a key cytokine playing a pivotal role in immunoprotection. Using WT and μ-opioid receptor knock-out mice, we show that MW in vivo significantly attenuated LPS-induced IL-12p40 mRNA and protein expression. The role of glucocorticoids in MW modulation of IL-12p40 was investigated using a murine macrophage cell line, CRL2019, in an in vitro MW model. Interestingly, MW alone in the absence of glucocorticoids resulted in a significant reduction in IL-12p40 promoter activity and mRNA and protein expression. EMSA revealed a concurrent decrease in consensus binding to transcription factors NFκB, Activator Protein-1, and CCAAT/enhancer- binding protein and Western blot analysis demonstrated a significant activation of LPS-induced ERK1/2 phosphorylation. Interestingly, although glucocorticoid treatment alone also modulated these transcription factors and ERK1/2 activation, the addition of glucocorticoids to MW samples resulted in a greater than additive reduction in the transcription factors and significant hyperactivation of LPS-induced ERK1/2 phosphorylation. ERK inhibitors reversed MW and MW plus corticosterone inhibition of LPS-induced IL-12p40. The potentiating effects of glucocorticoids were non-genomic because nuclear translocation of glucocorticoid receptor was not significantly different between MW and corticosterone treatment. This study demonstrates for the first time that MW and glucocorticoids independently modulate IL-12p40 production through a mechanism involving ERK1/2 hyperactivation and that glucocorticoids can significantly augment MW-induced inhibition of IL-12p40.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)29806-29817
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Biological Chemistry
Issue number34
Publication statusPublished - 26 Aug 2011


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