Targeting multiple opioid receptors - improved analgesics with reduced side effects?

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Classical opioid analgesics, including morphine, mediate all of their desired and undesired effects by specific activation of the μ-opioid receptor (μ receptor). The use of morphine for treating chronic pain, however, is limited by the development of constipation, respiratory depression, tolerance and dependence. Analgesic effects can also be mediated through other members of the opioid receptor family such as the κ-opioid receptor (κ receptor), δ-opioid receptor (δ receptor) and the nociceptin/orphanin FQ peptide receptor (NOP receptor). Currently, a new generation of opioid analgesics is being developed that can simultaneously bind with high affinity to multiple opioid receptors. With this new action profile, it is hoped that additional analgesic effects and fewer side effects can be achieved. Recent research is mainly focused on the development of bifunctional μ/NOP receptor agonists, which has already led to novel lead structures such as the spiroindole-based cebranopadol and a compound class with a piperidin-4-yl-1,3-dihydroindol-2-one backbone (SR16835/AT-202 and SR14150/AT-200). In addition, the ornivol BU08028 is an analogue of the clinically well-established buprenorphine. Moreover, the morphinan-based nalfurafine exerts its effect with a dominant κ receptor-component and is therefore utilized in the treatment of pruritus. The very potent dihydroetorphine is a true multi-receptor opioid ligand in that it binds to μ, κ and δ receptors. The main focus of this review is to assess the paradigm of opioid ligands targeting multiple receptors with a single chemical entity. We reflect on this rationale by discussing the biological actions of particular multi-opioid receptor ligands, but not on their medicinal chemistry and design.

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