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Cell Immunol. 2008 Mar-Apr;252(1-2):146-54. doi: 10.1016/j.cellimm.2007.09.008. Epub 2008 Feb 14.

Opioid and nociceptin receptors regulate cytokine and cytokine receptor expression.

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Fels Institute for Cancer Research and Molecular Biology, Temple University School of Medicine, Philadelphia, PA 19140, USA.


Opioids were originally discovered because of their ability to induce analgesia, but further investigation has shown that the opioids regulate the function of cells involved in the immune response. We suggest that the regulation of cytokine, chemokine, and cytokine receptor expression is a critical component of the immunomodulatory activity of the opioids. In this paper we review the literature dealing with the regulation of cytokine and cytokine receptor expression by agonists for the three major opioid receptor types (mu, kappa, and delta), and nociceptin, the natural agonist for the orphanin FQ/nociceptin receptor. Although the opioid receptors share a high degree of sequence homology, opposing roles between the kappa opioid receptor (KOR) and the mu opioid receptor (MOR) have become apparent. We suggest that activation of the KOR induces an anti-inflammatory response through the down-regulation of cytokine, chemokine and chemokine receptor expression, while activation of the MOR favors a pro-inflammatory response. Investigation into the opioid receptor-like (ORL1)/nociceptin system also suggests a role for this receptor as a down-regulator of immune function. These effects suggest a broad role for opioids in the modulation of the function of the immune system, and suggest possible targets for the development of new therapeutics for inflammatory and infectious diseases.

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