Opioid analgesics, such as morphine, oxycodone, and fentanyl, are the cornerstones for treating moderate to severe pain. However, on chronic administration, their efficiency is limited by prominent side effects such as analgesic tolerance and dependence liability. Neuropeptide FF (NPFF) and its receptors (NPFF1R and NPFF2R) are recognized as an important pronociceptive system involved in opioid-induced hyperalgesia and analgesic tolerance. In this article, we report the design of multitarget peptidomimetic compounds that show high-affinity binding to the mu-opioid receptor (MOPr) and NPFFRs. In vitro characterization of these compounds led to identification of KGFF03 and KGFF09 as G-protein–biased MOPr agonists with full agonist or antagonist activity at NPFFRs, respectively. In agreement with their biased MOPr agonism, KGFF03/09 showed reduced respiratory depression in mice, as compared to the unbiased parent opioid agonist KGOP01. Chronic subcutaneous administration of KGOP01 and KGFF03 in mice rapidly induced hyperalgesia and analgesic tolerance, effects that were not observed on chronic treatment with KGFF09. This favorable profile was further confirmed in a model of persistent inflammatory pain. In addition, we showed that KGFF09 induced less physical dependence compared with KGOP01 and KGFF03. Altogether, our data establish that combining, within a single molecule, the G-protein–biased MOPr agonism and NPFFR antagonism have beneficial effects on both acute and chronic side effects of conventional opioid analgesics. This strategy can lead to the development of novel and potent antinociceptive drugs with limited side effects on acute and chronic administration.
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