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Papers of the Week

Papers: 15 May 2021 - 21 May 2021

Animal Studies, Pharmacology/Drug Development

2021 May 18



ß2-Arrestin germline knockout does not attenuate opioid respiratory depression.


Bachmutsky I, Wei X P, Durand A, Yackle K
Elife. 2021 May 18; 10.
PMID: 34002697.


Opioids are perhaps the most effective analgesics in medicine. However, between 1999 to 2018, over 400,000 people in the United States died from opioid overdose. Excessive opioids make breathing lethally slow and shallow, a side-effect called opioid induced respiratory depression. This doubled-edged sword has sparked the desire to develop novel therapeutics that provide opioid-like analgesia without depressing breathing. One such approach has been the design of so-called 'biased agonists' that signal through some, but not all pathways downstream of the µ-opioid receptor (MOR), the target of morphine and other opioid analgesics. This rationale stems from a study suggesting that MOR-induced ß2-arrestin dependent signaling is responsible for opioid respiratory depression, whereas adenylyl cyclase inhibition produces analgesia. To verify this important result that motivated the 'biased agonist' approach, we re-examined breathing in ß2-arrestin deficient mice and instead find no connection between ß2-arrestin and opioid respiratory depression. This result suggests that any attenuated effect of 'biased agonists' on breathing is through an as-yet defined mechanism.