Mice make morphine, humans might too

Written by: Captain Skellett // May 16th, 2010 // Drugs, Recent Research

Image licensed Armin Kübelbeck

A recent study has found that mice are able to turn something normally found in mice brains into morphine.

Morphine is a potent painkiller harvested from opium poppies. We can make it synthetically in the lab, but it’s cheaper to let plants do the hard work. If you haven’t taken morphine, you may have taken its sibling codeine. Codeine in converted to morphine in your liver, so it’s much the same thing albeit in a smaller dose.

For the study they labeled tetrahydropapaveroline (THP) found normally in mice brains. Labeling is often used in molecular biology, you can label things by including rare radioactive atoms, or by sticking another molecule onto the original molecule. It works like a tracking device.

The labeled THP was injected into mice, and out of their urine appeared labeled salutaridine which is a precursor to morphine in the opium poppies.

Then they labeled some synthetic salutaridine and injected it into the mice, and in the urine came out labeled thebaine. Labeled thebaine was injected and finally, lo and behold, labeled morphine appeared.

It took several steps, but the mouse converted THP into morphine. Here’s the kicker, THP is found normally in mice brains AND human brains! So this process could be happening in people. Right now, you could be making your own morphine. Indeed traces of morphine are found in human urine, but until now they weren’t sure if it was something in the diet.

If morphine is made in humans, what is it doing there? It could help control pain, which would explain why our bodies respond so strongly to a dose of morphine.

ResearchBlogging.orgGrobe, N., Lamshoft, M., Orth, R., Drager, B., Kutchan, T., Zenk, M., & Spiteller, M. (2010). Urinary excretion of morphine and biosynthetic precursors in mice Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 107 (18), 8147-8152 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1003423107

Captain Skellett

I be Captain Skellett. Me blog started in April 2009 when I was working full time and didn’t get a chance to talk science. Now I have changed jobs and talk science all the time, but that doesn’t stop me blogging. More About Captain Skellett   Google

   

One Response to “Mice make morphine, humans might too”

  1. Jeff says:

    Aren’t we already aware of chemicals with (don’t quote me on the number) 5000 times the potency of morphine in our body? I believe they are called enkephalins.

    It would seem the more pressing research would be on how/what determines the release of the “superpower” painkiller that we have available. And with that, we can start to look at how we can produce these ourselves naturally.

    (Same goes for antidepressants, blood pressure medications, etc. If you are aware of any journals or studies that have been done where scientists try to determine which natural activities humans do that can cause blocking neurotransmitter reuptake, increasing hormone production, etc. please e-mail me)

    Being somewhat of a cynic, I can only hope that research scientists are not just focused on creating pills designed to mimick the body, but are also focused on how we have the ability to alter chemicals in our body through various activities, thought patterns, etc.






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