Dexmedetomidine ameliorates nocifensive behavior in humanized sickle cell mice

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Abstract Patients with sickle cell disease (SCD) can have recurrent episodes of vaso-occlusive crises, which are associated with severe pain. While opioids are the mainstay of analgesic therapy, in some patients, increasing opioid use results in continued and increasing pain. Many believe that this phenomenon results from opioid-induced tolerance or hyperalgesia or that SCD pain involves non-opioid-responsive mechanisms. Dexmedetomidine, a specific α2-adrenoreceptor agonist, which has sedative and analgesic properties, reduces opioid requirements, and can facilitate opioid withdrawal in clinical settings. We hypothesized that dexmedetomidine would ameliorate the nociception phenotype of SCD mice. Townes and BERK SCD mice, strains known to have altered nociception phenotypes, were used in a crossover preclinical trial that measured nocifensive behavior before and after treatment with dexmedetomidine or vehicle. In a linear dose-effect relationship, over 60-min, dexmedetomidine, compared with vehicle, significantly increased hot plate latency in Townes and BERK mice (P≤0.006). In sickle, but not control mice, dexmedetomidine improved grip force, an indicator of muscle pain (P=0.002). As expected, dexmedetomidine had a sedative effect in sickle and control mice as it decreased wakefulness scores compared with vehicle (all P<0.001). Interestingly, the effects of dexmedetomidine on hot plate latency and wakefulness scores were different in sickle and control mice, i.e., dexmedetomidine-related increases in hotplate latency and decreases in wakefulness scores were significantly smaller in Townes sickle compared to control mice. In conclusion, these findings of beneficial effects of dexmedetomidine on the nociception phenotype in SCD mice might support the conduct of studies of dexmedetomidine in SCD patients.

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