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Br J Pharmacol. 2018 Jul;175(14):2750-2769. doi: 10.1111/bph.13808. Epub 2017 May 4.

μ opioid receptor, social behaviour and autism spectrum disorder: reward matters.

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Physiologie de la Reproduction et des Comportements, INRA UMR-0085, CNRS UMR-7247, Université de Tours Rabelais, IFCE, Inserm, Nouzilly, France.


The endogenous opioid system is well known to relieve pain and underpin the rewarding properties of most drugs of abuse. Among opioid receptors, the μ receptor mediates most of the analgesic and rewarding properties of opioids. Based on striking similarities between social distress, physical pain and opiate withdrawal, μ receptors have been proposed to play a critical role in modulating social behaviour in humans and animals. This review summarizes experimental data demonstrating such role and proposes a novel model, the μ opioid receptor balance model, to account for the contribution of μ receptors to the subtle regulation of social behaviour. Interestingly, μ receptor null mice show behavioural deficits similar to those observed in patients with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), including severe impairment in social interactions. Therefore, after a brief summary of recent evidence for blunted (social) reward processes in subjects with ASD, we review here arguments for altered μ receptor function in this pathology. This article is part of a themed section on Emerging Areas of Opioid Pharmacology. To view the other articles in this section visit

[Available on 2019-07-01]

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