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Opioids without the risk of addiction?

Science Spotlight

March 26, 2019

Scientists are working to develop medicines that have the pain-relieving effects of opioids without the high risk of misuse and addiction. Since misuse is linked to the euphoric effects of the drug, investigators led by scientists at NIDA’s intramural labs are studying methadone, a drug used to manage opioid addiction that does not have euphoric effects as strong as many other opioids.

PET scan images in rats showing a much weaker ability of methadone than morphine to influence metabolic activity in the area of the nucleus accumbens. PET scan images in rats showing a much weaker ability of methadone than morphine to influence metabolic activity in the area of the nucleus accumbens. Courtesy: Biobehavioral Imaging and Molecular Neuropsychopharmacology Unit, NIDA IRP

Animal studies show that mu opioid receptors in the brain play a key role in the reinforcing effects of opioid drugs, whereas the neuropeptide galanin counteracts the effects of mu opioid receptors. In a recently published study, investigators found a significant difference in the mechanisms of action between methadone and morphine that is determined by the activation of opioid receptor complexes (heteromers) composed of both mu-opioid receptors and one of the galanin receptor subtypes; differences that are key to their subsequent effects on the brain’s dopamine system.

The investigators found that the opioid-galanin receptor heteromers determine the different effects of methadone as compared to morphine and fentanyl, showing methadone with a weaker ability to activate the dopaminergic system linked to the euphoric effects of opioids. These results should advance the search for opioids less likely to attach to opioid-galanin receptor heteromers, exemplified by methadone. This finding also enables the search for compounds that activate galanin receptors, which would be expected to reduce the abuse liability of opioids.

The research was done by scientists at NIDA’s intramural labs in Baltimore, the University of Maryland, Harvard Medical School, and the University of Barcelona.

For a copy of the article, published in Journal of Clinical Investigation, go to Opioid-galanin receptor heteromers mediate the dopaminergic effects of opioids.

For more information, go to Opioids.

For more information, contact the NIDA press office at media@nida.nih.gov or 301-443-6245. Follow NIDA on Twitter and Facebook.

NIDA Press Office
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About the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA): The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) is a component of the National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. NIDA supports most of the world’s research on the health aspects of drug use and addiction. The Institute carries out a large variety of programs to inform policy, improve practice, and advance addiction science. Fact sheets on the health effects of drugs and information on NIDA research and other activities can be found at www.drugabuse.gov, which is now compatible with your smartphone, iPad or tablet. To order publications in English or Spanish, call NIDA’s DrugPubs research dissemination center at 1-877-NIDA-NIH or 240-645-0228 (TDD) or email requests to drugpubs@nida.nih.gov. Online ordering is available at drugpubs.drugabuse.gov. NIDA’s media guide can be found at www.drugabuse.gov/publications/media-guide/dear-journalist, and its easy-to-read website can be found at www.easyread.drugabuse.gov. You can follow NIDA on Twitter and Facebook.

About the National Institutes of Health (NIH): NIH, the nation’s medical research agency, includes 27 Institutes and Centers and is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. NIH is the primary federal agency conducting and supporting basic, clinical, and translational medical research, and is investigating the causes, treatments, and cures for both common and rare diseases. For more information about NIH and its programs, visit www.nih.gov.

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    NIDA. (2019, March 26). Opioids without the risk of addiction?. Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/news-events/news-releases/2019/03/opioids-without-risk-addiction

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