Relative efficacy of buprenorphine, nalbuphine and morphine in opioid-treated rhesus monkeys discriminating naltrexone

Stacy Sell, Lance R. McMahon, Charles P. France

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

8 Scopus citations


Efficacy is one determinant of whether a drug is an agonist or an antagonist under a particular set of conditions. Relative efficacy among the μ opioid receptor (MOR) ligands buprenorphine, nalbuphine, and morphine was examined in monkeys dependent on morphine (3.2 mg/kg/day) or L-α-acetylmethadol (LAAM) (1.0 mg/kg twice daily) and that discriminated naltrexone (0.0178 mg/kg) from saline. In morphine-treated monkeys, buprenorphine and not nalbuphine substituted for naltrexone. When administered before naltrexone in morphine-treated monkeys, morphine and nalbuphine shifted the naltrexone dose-effect curve to the right, while buprenorphine shifted the naltrexone dose-effect curve to the left. Under conditions of acute morphine deprivation, naltrexone-lever responding was slightly attenuated by buprenorphine and markedly attenuated by nalbuphine and morphine. In LAAM-treated monkeys, buprenorphine substituted completely for naltrexone in only one monkey, while nalbuphine and morphine failed to substitute in any monkey. When administered before naltrexone in LAAM-treated monkeys, buprenorphine, nalbuphine, and morphine dose dependently shifted the naltrexone dose-effect curve to the right, with the exception of one monkey in which buprenorphine shifted the naltrexone dose-effect curve to the left. These results demonstrate that a low efficacy MOR ligand can exert agonist or antagonist actions in the same animal depending on immediate pharmacologic history. The qualitatively different effects of buprenorphine in morphine- and LAAM-treated monkeys might be related to magnitude of dependence insofar as dependence can determine the efficacy required for agonist activity. Thus, buprenorphine has markedly different effects across different levels of opioid dependence.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1167-1173
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 1 2003


ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pharmacology

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