The μ-opioid receptor (MOR) system has long been thought to underpin the rewarding properties of pleasant touch. Numerous non-human animal studies implicate MORs in social behaviours involving touch, but little is currently known about MOR involvement in human touch reward. Here, we employed a bi-directional pharmacological double-blind crossover design to assess the role of the human MOR system for touch pleasantness and motivation. Forty-nine male volunteers received 10 mg per-oral morphine, 50 mg per-oral naltrexone and placebo before being brushed on their forearm at three different velocities (0.3, 3 and 30 cm/s). In a touch liking task, pleasantness ratings were recorded after each 15 s brushing trial. In a touch wanting task, participants actively manipulated trial duration through key presses. As expected, 3 cm/s was the preferred velocity, producing significantly higher pleasantness ratings and wanting scores than the other stimuli. Contrary to our hypothesis, MOR drug manipulations did not significantly affect either touch pleasantness or wanting. The null effects were supported by post hoc Bayesian analyses indicating that the models with no drug effect were more than 25 times more likely than the alternative models given the data. We conclude that μ-opioid signalling is unlikely to underpin non-affiliative touch reward in humans.
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