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Papers of the Week

Papers: 20 Jan 2024 - 26 Jan 2024

2024 Jan 20

Mol Pharm


A Novel Leu-Enkephalin Prodrug Produces Pain-Relieving and Antidepressant Effects.


Hohenwarter L, Puil E, Rouhollahi E, Bohrmann L, Lu S, Saatchi K, Häfeli UO, Barr A, Böttger R, Viswanadham KKD, Li SD


Persistent pain is a significant healthcare problem with limited treatment options. The high incidence of comorbid chronic pain and depression significantly reduces life quality and complicates the treatment of both conditions. Antidepressants are less effective for pain and depression than for depression alone and they induce severe side effects. Opioids are highly efficacious analgesics, but rapid development of tolerance, dependence, and debilitating side effects limit their efficacy and safe use. Leucine-enkephalin (Leu-ENK), the endogenous delta opioid receptor agonist, controls pain and mood and produces potent analgesia with reduced adverse effects compared to conventional opioids. High proteolytic instability, however, makes Leu-ENK ineffective after systemic administration and limits its clinical usefulness. KK-103, a Leu-ENK prodrug, was developed to overcome these limitations of Leu-ENK via markedly increased plasma stability in mice. We showed rapid and substantially increased systemic adsorption and blood plasma exposure of KK-103 compared to Leu-ENK. We also observed brain uptake of radiolabeled KK-103 after systemic administration, indicating a central effect of KK-103. We then established KK-103’s prolonged antinociceptive efficacy in the ramped hot plate and formalin test. In both models, KK-103 produced a comparable dose to the maximum antinociceptive-effect relationship. The pain-alleviating effect of KK-103 primarily resulted from activating the delta opioid receptor after the likely conversion of KK-103 to Leu-ENK in vivo. Finally, KK-103 produced an antidepressant-like activity comparable to the antidepressant desipramine, but with minimal gastrointestinal inhibition and no incidence of sedation.