Morphine alters astrocyte growth in primary cultures of mouse glial cells: evidence for a direct effect of opiates on neural maturation

Anne Stiene-Martin, Julie A. Gurwell, Kurt F. Hauser

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96 Scopus citations


To determine whether exogenous opiate drugs with abuse liability directly modify neural growth, the present study investigated the effects of morphine on astrocyte proliferation and differentiation in primary cultures of murine glial cells. The results indicate that morphine decreases glial cell production in a dose-dependent, naloxone-reversible manner. Most notably, gliogenesis virtually ceased in the presence of 10-6 M morphine during the first week in cultures, whereas 10-8 M or 10-10 M morphine caused an intermediate suppression of growth compared to control or 106 M morphine treated cultures. Moreover, morphine treatment inhibited [3H]thymidine incorporation by glial fibrillary acidic protein (GFAP) immunoreactive, flat (type 1) astrocytes, suggesting that the decrease in glial cell production was due in part to an inhibition of astrocyte proliferation. Morphine also caused significant increases in both cytoplasmic area and process elaboration in flat (type 1) astrocytes indicating greater morphologic differentiation. In the above experiments, morphine-dependent alterations in astrocyte growth were antagonized by naloxone, indicating that morphine action was mediated by specific opioid receptors. These observations suggest that opiate drugs can directly modify neural growth by influencing two critical developmental events in astrocytes, i.e., inhibiting proliferation and inducing morphologic differentiation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-7
Number of pages7
JournalDevelopmental Brain Research
Issue number1
StatePublished - May 20 1991


  • Astrocyte morphology
  • Cell differentiation
  • Cell proliferation
  • Drug abuse
  • Glial development
  • Naloxone
  • Neural development
  • Opioid
  • Opioid receptor

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Developmental Neuroscience
  • Developmental Biology


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