Opioids are the most effective analgesics, with most clinically available opioids being agonists to the µ-opioid receptor (MOR). The MOR is also responsible for their unwanted effects, including reward and opioid misuse leading to the current public health crisis. The imperative need for safer, non-addictive pain therapies drives the search for novel leads and new treatment strategies. In this study, the recently discovered MOR/nociceptin (NOP) receptor peptide hybrid KGNOP1 (H-Dmt-D-Arg-Aba-β-Ala-Arg-Tyr-Tyr-Arg-Ile-Lys-NH2) was evaluated following subcutaneous administration in mouse models of acute (formalin test) and chronic inflammatory pain (Complete Freund’s adjuvant-induced paw hyperalgesia), liabilities of spontaneous locomotion, conditioned place preference, and the withdrawal syndrome. KGNOP1 demonstrated dose-dependent antinociceptive effects in the formalin test, and efficacy in attenuating thermal hyperalgesia with prolonged duration of action. Antinociceptive effects of KGNOP1 were reversed by naltrexone and SB-612111, indicating the involvement of both MOR and NOP receptor agonism. In comparison with morphine, KGNOP1 was more potent and effective in mouse models of inflammatory pain. Unlike morphine, KGNOP1 displayed reduced detrimental liabilities, as no locomotor impairment nor rewarding and withdrawal effects were observed. Docking of KGNOP1 to the MOR and NOP receptors and subsequent 3D interaction pattern analyses provided valuable insights into its binding mode. The mixed MOR/NOP receptor peptide KGNOP1 holds promise in the effort to develop new analgesics for the treatment of various pain states with fewer MOR-mediated side effects, particularly abuse and dependence liabilities.
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