Targeting Melatonin MT2 Receptors: A Novel Pharmacological Avenue for Inflammatory and Neuropathic Pain (E-pub Ahead of Print)
Danilo De Gregorio,
Melatonin (MLT) has been implicated in several pathophysiological states, including pain. MLT mostly activates two G-protein coupled receptors, MT1 and MT2. In this review, we present the analgesic properties of MLT in preclinical and clinical studies, giving particular emphasis to the effects mediated by MT2 receptors and to recent investigations demonstrating the analgesic effects of MT2 receptor partial agonists in chronic and acute/inflammatory pain conditions. MT2 receptors are localized in specific brain areas, including the reticular and the ventromedial nuclei of the thalamus (part of the ascending nociceptive pathway) and the ventrolateral periaqueductal grey matter (vlPAG) (part of the descending antinociceptive pathway). MLT displays analgesic properties in several animal paradigms of chronic, acute, inflammatory and neuropathic pain; importantly, these effects are mediated by MT2 receptors since they are blocked by selective MT2 antagonists. In different pain paradigms, UCM924 and UCM765, two selective MT2 receptor partial agonists, produce analgesic effects with higher potency than MLT, thus confirming the involvement of MT2 receptors in pain. Notably, these compounds do not induce sedation and motor impairments. Although their analgesic mechanism of action is not yet completely elucidated, they act on antinociceptive descending pathways by stimulating MT2 receptors on glutamatergic neurons of the vlPAG, which in turn activate OFF cells and inhibit ON cells of the rostral ventromedial medulla (RVM). Collectively, there is strong preclinical evidence suggesting the pharmacological potential of MT2 receptor partial agonists, which also have a favorable toxicological profile. These compounds may be further developed as novel analgesic drugs.
Keywords: Melatonin, MT2 receptors, MT2 receptors partial agonists, ON/OFF cells, chronic pain, acute/inflammatory pain.
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