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The emerging therapeutic roles of κ-opioid agonists

Mark R. Jones, MD, Alan David Kaye, MD, PhD, Aaron J. Kaye, BA, Richard D. Urman, MD, MBA


The current practice of μ-opioid receptor agonists such as morphine as the primary means of acute and chronic pain relief has several dangerous consequences that limit their effectiveness, including respiratory depression, gastrointestinal motility inhibition, addiction, tolerance, and abuse. Several other opioid receptors, notably the κ-opioid (KOP) receptor, have long been known to play a role in pain relief.

Recent discoveries and advancements in laboratory techniques have allowed significant developments of KOP agonists as potential novel therapies for pain relief and other pathological processes. These drugs exhibit none of the classic opioid adverse effects and have displayed pronounced analgesia in several different scenarios. New formulations since 2014 have unveiled increased oral bioavailability, exceptional peripheral versus central selectivity, and a positive safety profile. Continued refinements of established κ-opioid agonist formulations have virtually eliminated the centrally mediated side effects of dysphoria and sedation that limited the applicability of previous KOP agonists. Further research is required to better elucidate the potential of these compounds in pain management, as well as in the mediation or modulation of other complex pathophysiological processes as therapeutic agents.


κ-opioid, pain, opioid, analgesia, compound 9, CR845, PR-38

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