Morphine and related drugs that act through activating opioid receptors are the most effective analgesics for the relief of severe pain. They have been used for decades, despite the range of unwanted side effects that they produce, as no alternative has been found so far. The major goal of opioid research is to understand the mechanism of action of opioid receptor agonists and to improve therapeutic utility of opioid drugs. In the search for safer and more potent analgesics, analogs with mixed opioid receptor profile gained a lot of interest. However, recently the concept of biased agonism, that highlights the fact that some ligands are able to differentially activate receptor downstream pathways, became a new approach in the design of novel drug candidates for clinical application. In this review we summarize our current knowledge on the development of opioid ligands of peptide and non-peptide structure, showing how much opioid pharmacology evolved in recent years.
Keywords: opioid receptors, opioid peptides, antinociceptive activity, biased agonism, bias factor
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