Targeting immune-driven opioid analgesia by sigma-1 receptors: Opening the door to novel perspectives for the analgesic use of sigma-1 antagonists

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Abstract

Immune cells have a known role in pronociception, since they release a myriad of inflammatory algogens which interact with neurons to facilitate pain signaling. However, these cells also produce endogenous opioid peptides with analgesic potential. The sigma-1 receptor is a ligand-operated chaperone that modulates neurotransmission by interacting with multiple protein partners, including the μ-opioid receptor. We recently found that sigma-1 antagonists are able to induce opioid analgesia by enhancing the action of endogenous opioid peptides of immune origin during inflammation. This opioid analgesia is seen only at the inflamed site, where immune cells naturally accumulate. In this article we review the difficulties of targeting the opioid system for selective pain relief, and discuss the dual role of immune cells in pain and analgesia. Our discussion creates perspectives for possible novel therapeutic uses of sigma-1 antagonists as agents able to maximize the analgesic potential of the immune system.

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