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Papers of the Week

Papers: 28 Oct 2023 - 3 Nov 2023


Front Pharmacol



μ-opioid receptor agonists and psychedelics: pharmacological opportunities and challenges.


Salinsky LM, Merritt CR, Zamora JC, Giacomini JL, Anastasio NC, Cunningham KA


Opioid misuse and opioid-involved overdose deaths are a massive public health problem involving the intertwined misuse of prescription opioids for pain management with the emergence of extremely potent fentanyl derivatives, sold as standalone products or adulterants in counterfeit prescription opioids or heroin. The incidence of repeated opioid overdose events indicates a problematic use pattern consistent with the development of the medical condition of opioid use disorder (). Prescription and illicit opioids reduce pain perception by activating µ-opioid receptors () localized to the central nervous system (). Dysregulation of meso-corticolimbic circuitry that subserves reward and adaptive behaviors is fundamentally involved in the progressive behavioral changes that promote and are consequent to OUD. Although opioid-induced analgesia and the rewarding effects of abused opioids are primarily mediated through MOR activation, serotonin () is an important contributor to the pharmacology of opioid abused drugs (including heroin and prescription opioids) and OUD. There is a recent resurgence of interest into psychedelic compounds that act primarily through the 5-HT receptor ( ) as a new frontier in combatting such diseases (e.g., depression, anxiety, and substance use disorders). Emerging data suggest that the MOR and 5-HTR crosstalk at the cellular level and within key nodes of OUD circuitry, highlighting a major opportunity for novel pharmacological intervention for OUD. There is an important gap in the preclinical profiling of psychedelic 5-HTR agonists in OUD models. Further, as these molecules carry risks, additional analyses of the profiles of non-hallucinogenic 5-HTR agonists and/or 5-HTR positive allosteric modulators may provide a new pathway for 5-HTR therapeutics. In this review, we discuss the opportunities and challenges associated with utilizing 5-HTR agonists as therapeutics for OUD.