Background: Dispositions for genes encoding opioid receptors may explain some variability in morphine efficacy. Experimental studies show that morphine and morphine-6-glucuronide are less effective in individuals carrying variant alleles caused by the 118 A > G polymorphism in the µ-opioid receptor gene (OPRM1). The purpose of the study was to investigate whether this and other genetic polymorphisms in OPRM1 influence the efficacy of morphine in cancer pain patients.
Methods: We screened 207 cancer pain patients on oral morphine treatment for four frequent OPRM1 gene polymorphisms. The polymorphisms were the −172 G > T polymorphism in the 5′untranslated region of exon 1, the 118 A > G polymorphism in exon 1, and the IVS2 + 31 G > A and IVS2 + 691 G > C polymorphisms, both in intron 2. Ninety-nine patients with adequately controlled pain were included in an analysis comparing morphine doses and serum concentrations of morphine and morphine metabolites in the different genotypes for the OPRM1 polymorphisms.
Results: No differences related to the −172 G > T, the IVS2 + 31 G > A and the IVS2 + 691 G > C polymorphisms were observed. Patients homozygous for the variant G allele of the 118 A > G polymorphism (n = 4) needed more morphine to achieve pain control, compared to heterozygous (n = 17) and homozygous wild-type (n = 78) individuals. This difference was not explained by other factors such as duration of morphine treatment, performance status, time since diagnosis, time until death, or adverse symptoms.
Conclusion: Patients homozygous for the 118 G allele of the µ-opioid receptor need higher morphine doses to achieve pain control. Thus, genetic variation at the gene encoding the µ-opioid receptor contributes to variability in patients' responses to morphine.