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Papers of the Week

Papers: 12 Sep 2020 - 18 Sep 2020

Pharmacology/Drug Development

2020 Sep 11




Biased Opioid Antagonists as Modulators of Opioid Dependence: Opportunities to Improve Pain Therapy and Opioid Use Management.


Opioid analgesics are effective pain therapeutics but they cause various adverse effects and addiction. For safer pain therapy, biased opioid agonists selectively target distinct μ opioid receptor (MOR) conformations, while the potential of biased opioid antagonists has been neglected. Agonists convert a dormant receptor form (MOR-μ) to a ligand-free active form (MOR-μ*), which mediates MOR signaling. Moreover, MOR-μ converts spontaneously to MOR-μ* (basal signaling). Persistent upregulation of MOR-μ* has been invoked as a hallmark of opioid dependence. Contrasting interactions with both MOR-μ and MOR-μ* can account for distinct pharmacological characteristics of inverse agonists (naltrexone), neutral antagonists (6β-naltrexol), and mixed opioid agonist-antagonists (buprenorphine). Upon binding to MOR-μ*, naltrexone but not 6β-naltrexol suppresses MOR-μ*signaling. Naltrexone blocks opioid analgesia non-competitively at MOR-μ*with high potency, whereas 6β-naltrexol must compete with agonists at MOR-μ, accounting for ~100-fold lower in vivo potency. Buprenorphine's bell-shaped dose-response curve may also result from opposing effects on MOR-μ and MOR-μ*. In contrast, we find that 6β-naltrexol potently prevents dependence, below doses affecting analgesia or causing withdrawal, possibly binding to MOR conformations relevant to opioid dependence. We propose that 6β-naltrexol is a biased opioid antagonist modulating opioid dependence at low doses, opening novel avenues for opioid pain therapy and use management.