Divergent profiles of fentanyl withdrawal and associated pain in mice and rats

Olivia Uddin, Carleigh Jenne, Megan E. Fox, Keiko Arakawa, Asaf Keller, Nathan Cramer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Opioid abuse has devastating effects on patients, their families, and society. Withdrawal symptoms are severely unpleasant, prolonged, and frequently hinder recovery or lead to relapse. The sharp increase in abuse and overdoses arising from the illicit use of potent and rapidly-acting synthetic opioids, such as fentanyl, highlights the urgency of understanding the withdrawal mechanisms related to these drugs. Progress is impeded by inconsistent reports on opioid withdrawal in different preclinical models. Here, using rats and mice of both sexes, we quantified withdrawal behaviors during spontaneous and naloxone-precipitated withdrawal, following two weeks of intermittent fentanyl exposure. We found that both mice and rats lost weight during exposure and showed increased signs of distress during spontaneous and naloxone precipitated withdrawal. However, these species differed in their expression of withdrawal associated pain, a key contributor to relapse in humans. Spontaneous or ongoing pain was preferentially expressed in rats in both withdrawal conditions, while no change was observed in mice. In contrast, withdrawal associated thermal hyperalgesia was found only in mice. These data suggest that rats and mice diverge in how they experience withdrawal and which aspects of the human condition they most accurately model. These differences highlight each species' strengths as model systems and can inform experimental design in studies of opioid withdrawal.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number173077
JournalPharmacology Biochemistry and Behavior
StatePublished - Jan 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Biochemistry
  • Toxicology
  • Pharmacology
  • Clinical Biochemistry
  • Biological Psychiatry
  • Behavioral Neuroscience

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