Morphine is recommended as a first-line opioid analgesic in the pain management of cancer patients. Accumulating evidence shows that morphine has anti-apoptotic activity, but its impact on the therapeutic applications of antineoplastic drugs is not well known. The present study was undertaken to test the hypothesis that morphine might antagonize the pro-apoptotic activity of DOX (doxorubicin), a commonly used antitumour drug for the treatment of neuroblastoma, in cultured SH-SY5Y cells. In the present study we demonstrated that morphine suppressed DOX-induced inhibition of cell proliferation and programmed cell death in a concentration-dependent, and naloxone as well as pertussis toxin-irreversible, manner. Further studies showed that morphine inhibited ROS (reactive oxygen species) generation, and prevented DOX-mediated caspase-3 activation, cytochrome c release and changes of Bax and Bcl-2 protein expression. The antioxidant NAC (N-acetylcysteine) also showed the same effects as morphine on DOX-induced ROS generation, caspase-3 activation and cytochrome c release and changes in Bax (Bcl-2-associated X protein) and Bcl-2 protein expression. Additionally, morphine was found to suppress DOX-induced NF-κB (nuclear factor κB) transcriptional activation via a reduction of IκBα (inhibitor of nuclear factor κB) degradation. These present findings support the hypothesis that morphine can inhibit DOX-induced neuroblastoma cell apoptosis by the inhibition of ROS generation and mitochondrial cytochrome c release, as well as by blockade of NF-κB transcriptional activation, and suggests that morphine might have an impact on the antitumour efficiency of DOX.

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