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J Psychopharmacol. 2011 Nov;25(11):1415-33. doi: 10.1177/0269881110367726. Epub 2010 Jun 8.

Opioids and anxiety.

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Neuropsychopharmacology Unit, Centre for Pharmacology and Therapeutics, Division of Experimental Medicine, Imperial College London, London, UK.


The opioid system plays a crucial role in the neural modulation of anxiety. The involvement of opioid ligands and receptors in physiological and dysfunctional forms of anxiety is supported by findings from a wide range of preclinical and clinical studies, including clinical trials, experimental research, and neuroimaging, genetic, and epidemiological data. In this review we provide a summary of studies from a variety of research disciplines to elucidate the role of the opioid system in the neurobiology of anxiety. First, we report data from preclinical studies using animal models to examine the modulatory role of central opioid system on defensive responses conducive to fear and anxiety. Second, we summarize the human literature providing evidence that clinical and experimental human studies are consistent with preclinical models. The implication of these data is that activation of the opioid system leads to anxiolytic responses both in healthy subjects and in patients suffering from anxiety disorders. The role of opioids in suppressing anxiety may serve as an adaptive mechanism, collocated in the general framework of opioid neurotransmission blunting acute negative and distressing affective responses.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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