Effect of Age on Sensitivity to Pain and Brain Opiate Receptors

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Age-related differences in sensitivity to pain as induced by heat and electrical shock were seen among groups of rats; 2-3, 6-12, and 24 months of age. These age differences were at least partially obliterated by naloxone treatment, suggesting that changes may occur in the endogenous opioid system during aging. In contrast to higher pain thresholds in older animals, however, are decreased concentrations of opiate receptors in the frontal poles, striatum and hippocampus. Anterior cortex and amygdala exhibit a trend toward decreased concentration with increased age, but this is not significant. No age changes in binding affinity occur in any of the brain regions examined. Possible explanations for the apparent discrepancy between altered receptors and response include: higher endogenous opioid levels in aged rats, mediation of pain sensitivity by brain regions other than those examined, difficulties inherent in attempting to localize age changes at a single step in such a complex process, and possibly differential spinal pathways mediating the various types of pain. © 1981.

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