The search for new peptides to be used as analgesics in place of morphine has been mainly directed to develop peptide analogues or peptidomimetics having higher biological stability and receptor selectivity. Indeed, most of the alkaloid opioid counterindications are due to the scarce stability and the contemporary activation of different receptor types. However, the development of several extremely stable and selective peptide ligands for the different opioid receptors, and the recent discovery of the μ-receptor selective endomorphins, rendered this search less fundamental. In recent years, other opioid peptide properties have been investigated in the search for new pharmacological tools. The utility of a drug depends on its ability to reach appropriate receptors at the target tissue and to remain metabolically stable in order to produce the desired effect. This review deals with the recent investigations on peptide bioavailability, in particular barrier penetration and resistance against enzymatic degradation; with the development of peptides having activity at different receptors; with chimeric peptides, with propeptides, and with non-conventional peptides, lacking basic pharmacophoric features.
Keywords: Opioid peptide analogues, opioid receptors, pain, antinociception, peptide stability, bioavailability