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Handb Exp Pharmacol. 2019 Aug 29. doi: 10.1007/164_2019_268. [Epub ahead of print]

The Rise and Fall of Kappa-Opioid Receptors in Drug Abuse Research.

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Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology, Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, VA, USA.


Substance use disorders represent a global public health issue. This mental health disorder is hypothesized to result from neurobiological changes as a result of chronic drug exposure and clinically manifests as inappropriate behavioral allocation toward the procurement and use of the abused substance and away from other behaviors maintained by more adaptive nondrug reinforcers (e.g., social relationships, work). The dynorphin/kappa-opioid receptor (KOR) is one receptor system that has been altered following chronic exposure to drugs of abuse (e.g., cocaine, opioids, alcohol) in both laboratory animals and humans, implicating the dynorphin/KOR system in the expression, mechanisms, and treatment of substance use disorders. KOR antagonists have reduced drug self-administration in laboratory animals under certain experimental conditions, but not others. Recently, several human laboratory and clinical trials have evaluated the effectiveness of KOR antagonists as candidate pharmacotherapies for cocaine or tobacco use disorder to test hypotheses generated from preclinical studies. KOR antagonists failed to significantly alter drug use metrics in humans suggesting translational discordance between some preclinical drug self-administration studies and consistent with other preclinical drug self-administration studies that provide concurrent access to an alternative nondrug reinforcer (e.g., food). The implications of this translational discordance and future directions for examining the therapeutic potential of KOR agonists or antagonists as candidate substance use disorder pharmacotherapies are discussed.


Cocaine; Ethanol; Kappa opioid receptor; Medication development; Nicotine; Opioid


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