Opioids in chronic pain
Przewl&z shtsls;ocki R, Przewl&z shtsls;ocka B.
Department of Molecular Neuropharmacology,
Institute of Pharmacology,
12 Smetna Street, 31-343,
Krakow, Poland
Eur J Pharmacol 2001 Oct 19;429(1-3):79-91


The advance in our understanding of the biogenesis of various endogenous opioid peptides, their anatomical distribution, and the characteristics of the multiple receptors with which they interact open a new avenue for understanding the role of opioid peptide systems in chronic pain. The main groups of opioid peptides: enkephalins, dynorphins and beta-endorphin derive from proenkephalin, prodynorphin and proopiomelanocortin, respectively. Recently, a novel group of peptides has been discovered in the brain and named endomorphins, endomorphin-1 and -2. They are unique in comparison with other opioid peptides by atypical structure and high selectivity towards the mu-opioid receptor. Another group, which joined the endogenous opioid peptide family in the last few years is the pronociceptin system comprising the peptides derived from this prohormone, acting at ORL1 receptors. Three members of the opioid receptor family were cloned in the early 1990s, beginning with the mouse delta-opioid receptor (DOR1) and followed by cloning of mu-opioid receptor (MOR1) and kappa-opioid receptor (KOR1). These three receptors belong to the family of seven transmembrane G-protein coupled receptors, and share extensive structural homologies. These opioid receptor and peptide systems are significantly implicated in antinociceptive processes. They were found to be represented in the regions involved in nociception and pain. The effects of opioids in animal models of inflammatory pain have been studied in great detail. Inflammation in the periphery influences the central sites and changes the opioid action. Inflammation increased spinal potency of various opioid receptor agonists. In general, the antinociceptive potency of opioids is greater against various noxious stimuli in animals with peripheral inflammation than in control animals. Inflammation-induced enhancement of opioid antinociceptive potency is characteristic predominantly for &mgr; opioid receptors, since morphine elicits a greater increase in spinal potency of mu- than of delta- and kappa-opioid receptor agonists. Enhancement of the potency of mu-opioid receptor agonists during inflammation could arise from the changes occurring in opioid receptors, predominantly in affinity or number of the mu-opioid receptors. Inflammation has been shown to alter the expression of several genes in the spinal cord dorsal horn. Several studies have demonstrated profound alterations in the spinal PDYN system when there is peripheral inflammation or chronic arthritis. Endogenous dynorphin biosynthesis also increases under various conditions associated with neuropathic pain following damage to the spinal cord and injury of peripheral nerves. Interestingly, morphine lacks potent analgesic efficacy in neuropathic pain. A vast body of clinical evidence suggests that neuropathic pain is not opioid-resistant but only that reduced sensitivity to systemic opioids is observed in this condition, and an increase in their dose is necessary in order to obtain adequate analgesia. Reduction of morphine antinociceptive potency was postulated to be due to the fact that nerve injury reduced the activity of spinal opioid receptors or opioid signal transduction. Our recent study with endogenous ligands of the mu-opioid receptor, endomorphins, further complicates the issue, since endomorphins appear to be effective in neuropathic pain. Identification of the involved differences may be of importance to the understanding of the molecular mechanism of opioid action in neuropathic pain, as well as to the development of better and more effective drugs for the treatment of neuropathic pain in humans.
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Neuropathic pain
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Opioids, mood and cognition
Opioids for chronic pain relief
Opioids for non-malignant pain

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