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Am J Surg. 2001 Nov;182(5A Suppl):19S-26S.

A review of the potential role of methylnaltrexone in opioid bowel dysfunction.

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Department of Anesthesia and Critical Care, University of Chicago School of Medicine, Chicago, Illinois 60637, USA.


Opioids are widely used analgesics in patients with advanced cancer. However, their effectiveness for pain relief is often limited by the most frequently occurring side effect, opioid bowel dysfunction (OBD). Because conventional laxation measures are often ineffective in treating OBD, alternative approaches need to be investigated. Opioid action on the gut appears to be mediated mainly by receptors in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract rather than by those in the central nervous system (CNS). Opioid antagonists, such as naloxone, naltrexone, and nalmefene, have been studied as a means of antagonizing the peripheral effects of opioids, but these agents can enter the CNS and reverse analgesia or cause opioid withdrawal symptoms. Methylnaltrexone (MNTX) is a novel quaternary derivative of naltrexone that does not cross the blood-brain barrier and acts as a selective peripheral opioid receptor antagonist. In normal volunteers, intravenous or oral MNTX reverses opioid-induced reduction in bowel motility without affecting analgesia. Bioavailability of MNTX is low after oral administration, and plasma levels do not correlate with its actions in the gut, suggesting a predominantly local luminal action of MNTX on the gut. In patients receiving long-term opioid therapy, MNTX administered intravenously or orally was effective in reducing the delay in oral-cecal transit and eliciting laxation responses in all subjects without causing withdrawal symptoms. MNTX is a peripherally selective opioid antagonist that may have clinical utility in managing OBD with minimal adverse effects.

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