American Head & Neck Society
Translational Research Meeting

April 21-22, 2015

AHNS Annual Meeting
April 22-23, 2015 during the
Combined Otolaryngology Spring Meetings

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Effects Of A Mu-opioid Agonist And Antagonist On Head And Neck Cancer Cells

Presentation: C012
Type: COSM
Date: Thursday, April 23, 2015
Session: 9:00 AM - 7:00 PM
Authors: Reema Padia, MD, Tyler Call, MD, Jill Shea, PhD, Luke Buchmann, MD, Patricia Larrabee, BS, Matthew Firpo, PhD, MS
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Institution(s): University of Utah
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Background: Mu-opioid agonists are currently the most common form of analgesia administered to cancer patients.  Previous studies have suggested that the mu-agonist, morphine, can increase the growth of breast and lung cancer cells, possibly contributing to recurrence of these cancers.  The aim of this study is to determine if exposing head and neck cancer cell lines to either a mu-agonist (morphine) or a mu-antagonist (naloxone) affects cancer cell growth, with the hypothesis that morphine will increase cell growth and naloxone will inhibit growth.

Methods:   The human head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (SCC)  cell lines, SCC-12 laryngeal SCC, SCC-49 lateral oral tongue SCC, and SCC-74a base of tongue SCC after chemoradiation, were each separately exposed to 10, 25, 50, 75 and 100 ng/mL of morphine with a media-only control.  Resorufin reduction assays (alamarBlue) were used to monitor cell viability at 24 hours, 48 hours and 72 hours.  Parallel assays were performed using the same concentrations of naloxone.  Triplicate experiments were performed for each condition.

Results:  SCC-12 cells showed no change in growth when exposed to morphine relative to untreated controls.  Exposure of SCC-12 cells to naloxone showed a significant decrease in growth at all concentrations except for 10 ng/mL (p  <0.001).  Morphine and naloxone did not significantly affect growth in the SCC-49 and SCC-74a cell lines.  

Conclusion:  This data suggests an inhibitory effect of mu-opioid antagonists on laryngeal squamous cell carcinomas.  If indeed there is inhibition of growth from mu-antagonism, it is possible that other mu-antagonists such as nalbuphine may be indicated as an analgesic and therapeutic option in this group of cancer patients. Further investigations are warranted.


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