Blocking ‘Atypical’ Opioid Receptor may Help Treat Chronic Pain

ISLAMABAD, July 2 (APP): Researchers have discovered a possible way to increase levels of natural opioids in the brain. The new approach involves blocking an opioid receptor that normally inactivates these molecules.

Synthetic opioids, such as fentanyl, naloxone, and morphine, are powerful pain relief medications. They can also cause dependence, are highly addictive, and potentially fatal in overdose.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, every day in the United States, 128 people die after overdosing on opioids.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that the total economic burden of prescription opioid overdose, abuse, and dependence in the U.S. was $78.5 billion in 2013. The figure includes costs investigators associate with healthcare, criminal justice, and lost productivity.

While efforts to develop a nonaddictive synthetic opioid are making progress, an international team of scientists, which the Luxembourg Institute of Health (LIH) leads, is working on a radically different approach.

They have discovered a potential way to increase levels of the body’s own opioids. These natural opioids help to relieve pain and can also alleviate stress, anxiety, and depression.

There are three types of endogenous opioid — endorphins, enkephalins, and dynorphins. Endorphins are responsible for the ‘runner’s high’ that people can experience after vigorous exercise.

Endogenous opioids inhibit the transmission of pain signals in the central nervous system by binding to one of the four kinds of opioid receptors on nerve cells.

Synthetic opioids, such as fentanyl, bind to the same receptors, but they bind much more strongly than endogenous opioids.

LIH, in collaboration with scientists at the University of Bonn in Germany and the University of Liège in Belgium, has now identified a fifth opioid receptor that behaves differently.

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