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In rodents, the endogenous opioid system has been implicated in emotion regulation, and in the reduction of fear in particular. In humans, while there is evidence that the opioid antagonist naloxone acutely enhances the acquisition of conditioned fear, there are no corresponding data on the effect of opioid agonists in moderating responses to fear. We investigated whether a single 0.2mg administration of the mu-opioid agonist buprenorphine would decrease fear sensitivity with an emotion-recognition paradigm. Healthy human subjects participated in a randomized placebo-controlled within-subject design, in which they performed a dynamic emotion recognition task 120min after administration of buprenorphine and placebo. In the recognition task, basic emotional expressions were morphed between their full expression and neutral in 2% steps, and presented as dynamic video-clips with final frames of different emotional intensity for each trial, which allows for a fine-grained measurement of emotion sensitivity. Additionally, visual analog scales were used to investigate acute effects of buprenorphine on mood. Compared to placebo, buprenorphine resulted in a significant reduction in the sensitivity for recognizing fearful facial expressions exclusively. Our data demonstrate, for the first time in humans, that acute up-regulation of the opioid system reduces fear recognition sensitivity. Moreover, the absence of an effect of buprenorphine on mood provides evidence of a direct influence of opioids upon the core fear system in the human brain. Copyright © 2012 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.


Jonathan C Ipser, David Terburg, Supriya Syal, Nicole Phillips, Mark Solms, Jaak Panksepp, Susan Malcolm-Smith, Kevin Thomas, Dan J Stein, Jack van Honk. Reduced fear-recognition sensitivity following acute buprenorphine administration in healthy volunteers. Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2013 Jan;38(1):166-70

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PMID: 22651957

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