Morphine withdrawal dramatically reduces lymphocytes in morphine-dependent macaques

Michael R. Weed, Lucy M. Carruth, Robert J. Adams, Nancy A. Ator, Robert D. Hienz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


The immune effects of chronic opiate exposure and/or opiate withdrawal are not well understood. The results of human studies with opiate abusers are variable and may not be able to control for important factors such as subjects' drug histories, health and nutritional status. Nonhuman primate models are necessary to control these important factors. A model of opiate dependence in macaques was developed to study the effects of opiate dependence and withdrawal on measures of immune function. Four pigtailed macaques drank a mixture of morphine (20 mg/kg/session) and orange-flavored drink every 6 h for several months. During stable morphine dependence, absolute numbers of neutrophils, monocytes and lymphocytes did not change relative to pre-morphine levels. However, there was a significant decrease in the absolute number and percentage of natural killer (NK) cells in morphine dependence. Either precipitated withdrawal or abstinence for 24 h resulted in behavioral withdrawal signs in all animals. Absolute lymphocyte counts decreased and absolute netrophil counts increased significantly in withdrawal, relative to levels during morphine dependence. Lymphocyte subset (CD4+, CD8+, CD20+) cells were also decreased in absolute numbers with little change in their percentage distributions. There was, however, a significant increase in the percentage of NK cells in withdrawal relative to levels during morphine dependence. This study demonstrates the usefulness of voluntary oral self-dosing procedures for maintaining morphine dependence in nonhuman primates and demonstrates that the morphine withdrawal syndrome includes large alterations in blood parameters of immune system function, including nearly 50% reduction in numbers of CD4+, CD8+ and CD20+ cells.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)250-259
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Neuroimmune Pharmacology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 2006


  • Immune lymphocyte
  • Macaque
  • Monocyte
  • Morphine dependence
  • Neutrophil
  • Withdrawal

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience (miscellaneous)
  • Immunology and Allergy
  • Immunology
  • Pharmacology


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