The role of lgl/nk cells in surgery-induced promotion of metastasis and its attenuation by morphine

Gayle G. Page, Shamgar Beneliyahu, John C. Liebeskind

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

108 Scopus citations


Painful stress such as surgery has been shown both to suppress immune function and to promote metastasis, although the degree to which alterations in immunity underlies the tumor-enhancing effects of surgery remains unclear. We recently reported that an experimental laparotomy results in a twofold increase in the number of lung metastases following iv injection of MADB 106 tumor cells, a natural killer (NK)-sensitive mammary adenocarcinoma cell line, syngeneic to the Fischer 344 rats we studied, Further, the administration of an analgesic dose of morphine prevented these metastatic-enhancing effects of surgery. The aim of the present study was to investigate the role of NK cells in both the metastatic-enhancing effects of surgery and the attenuation of these effects by morphine. Using a simple 2 × 2 experimental design (surgery with anesthesia vs anesthesia only, and morphine vs vehicle), we found that surgery resulted in a decrease in both whole blood NK cytotoxic activity and number of circulating LGL/NK cells assessed 4 h postoperatively. In a second experiment involving an 18-h lung clearance assay, we used the mAb 3.2.3 to deplete rats of LGL/NK cells with the following rationale: if LGL/NK cells are necessary to mediate an event, then in their absence, that event should not occur. Normal and LGL/NK-depleted animals were assigned to the same four experimental groups, and radiolabeled MADB 106 tumor cells were injected iv 4 h after surgery. In normal animals, there was a significant interaction between surgery and morphine such that morphine attenuated the surgery-induced increase in tumor cell retention without affecting tumor cell retention in the anesthesia groups. In the LGL/NK-depleted animals, however, although the tumor-enhancing effects of surgery remained evident, morphine did not mitigate this outcome. These results suggest that: (a) both LGL/NK cell activity and other factors independent of LGL/NK cells play a role in the surgery-induced increase in tumor cell retention; and (b) LGL/NK cells play a critical role in morphine′s attenuating effects on this outcome. Finally, these results reinforce concern about the pathogenic consequences of unrelieved pain.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)241-250
Number of pages10
JournalBrain Behavior and Immunity
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 1994
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Immunology
  • Endocrine and Autonomic Systems
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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