Patients with peripheral artery disease show an exaggerated pressor response to mild exercise, an effect attributable to the exercise pressor reflex, whose afferent arm comprises the thinly myelinated group III and unmyelinated group IV afferents. Previously, we found that DAMGO, a µ-opioid agonist injected into the femoral artery, attenuated the exaggerated exercise pressor reflex in rats with ligated femoral arteries, a preparation that simulates the blood flow patterns to muscle that is seen in patients with peripheral artery disease. Continuing this line of investigation, we recorded the responses of group III and IV afferents to static contraction before and after injecting DAMGO (1 µg) into the superficial epigastric artery in rats with patent femoral arteries and in rats with ligated femoral arteries. In rats with patent arteries, DAMGO did not change the responses to contraction of either group III (n = 9; P = 0.83) or group IV (n = 8; P = 0.34) afferents. In contrast, in rats with ligated femoral arteries, DAMGO injection (1 µg) significantly decreased the responses to contraction of both group III afferents (n = 9, P < 0.01) and group IV afferents (n = 9; P < 0.01). DAMGO did not significantly attenuate the responses of either group III or IV afferents to capsaicin in rats with either patent or ligated femoral arteries. These findings are in agreement with our previous studies that showed that peripheral DAMGO injection attenuated the exercise pressor reflex in rats with ligated femoral arteries but had only a modest effect on the exercise pressor reflex in rats with patent femoral arteries. NEW & NOTEWORTHY In an animal model of peripheral artery disease, we show that the µ-opioid agonist, DAMGO reduces the afferent response rate resulting from stimulated static contraction. These results suggest that peripherally active opioid agonists that do not cross the blood-brain barrier may be therapeutic for treatment of peripheral artery disease without the negative and addictive side effects associated with opioids in the central nervous system.
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