Astrocyte-Derived Extracellular Vesicle–Mediated Activation of Primary Ciliary Signaling Contributes to the Development of Morphine Tolerance

Rong Ma, Naseer A. Kutchy, Guoku Hu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Scopus citations


Background: Morphine is used extensively in the clinical setting owing to its beneficial effects, such as pain relief; its therapeutic utility is limited because the prolonged use of morphine often results in tolerance and addiction. Astrocytes in the brain are a direct target of morphine action and play an essential role in the development of morphine tolerance. Primary cilia and the cilia-mediated sonic hedgehog (SHH) signaling pathways have been shown to play a role in drug resistance and morphine tolerance, respectively. Extracellular vesicles (EVs) play important roles as cargo-carrying vesicles mediating communication among cells and tissues. Methods: C57BL/6N mice were administered morphine for 8 days to develop tolerance, which was determined using the tail-flick and hot plate assays. EVs were separated from astrocyte-conditioned media using either size exclusion chromatography or ultracentrifugation approaches, followed by characterization of EVs using nanoparticle tracking analysis for EV size distribution and number, Western blotting for EV markers, and electron microscopy for EV morphology. Astrocytes were treated with EVs for 24 hours, followed by assessing primary cilia by fluorescent immunostaining for primary cilia markers (ARL13B and acetylated tubulin). Results: Morphine-tolerant mice exhibited an increase in primary cilia length and percentage of ciliated astrocytes. The levels of SHH protein were upregulated in morphine-stimulated astrocyte-derived EVs. SHH on morphine-stimulated astrocyte-derived EVs activated SHH signaling in astrocytes through primary cilia. Our in vivo study demonstrated that inhibition of either EV release or primary cilia prevents morphine tolerance in mice. Conclusions: EV-mediated primary ciliogenesis contributes to the development of morphine tolerance.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)575-585
Number of pages11
JournalBiological Psychiatry
Issue number8
StatePublished - Oct 15 2021


  • Astrocyte
  • Extracellular vesicle
  • Morphine tolerance
  • Primary cilia
  • Sonic hedgehog

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biological Psychiatry


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