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Biol Psychiatry. 2019 Sep 12. pii: S0006-3223(19)31669-5. doi: 10.1016/j.biopsych.2019.08.028. [Epub ahead of print]

Molecular Basis of Opioid Action: From Structures to New Leads.

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Departments of Pharmaceutical Chemistry and Anesthesia and Perioperative Care, University of California, San Francisco, San Francisco, California. Electronic address:


Since the isolation of morphine from the opium poppy over 200 years ago, the molecular basis of opioid action has remained the subject of intense inquiry. The identification of specific receptors responsible for opioid function and the discovery of many chemically diverse molecules with unique opioid-like efficacies have provided glimpses into the molecular logic of opioid action. Recent revolutions in the structural biology of transmembrane proteins have, for the first time, yielded high-resolution views into the 3-dimensional shapes of all 4 opioid receptors. These studies have begun to decode the chemical logic that enables opioids to specifically bind and activate their receptor targets. A combination of spectroscopic experiments and computational simulations has provided a view into the molecular movements of the opioid receptors, which itself gives rise to the complex opioid pharmacology observed at the cellular and behavioral levels. Further diversity in opioid receptor structure is driven by both genetic variation and receptor oligomerization. These insights have enabled computational drug discovery efforts, with some evidence of success in the design of completely novel opioids with unique efficacies. The combined progress over the past few years provides hope for new, efficacious opioids devoid of the side effects that have made them the scourge of humanity for millennia.


Analgesic; DOP; G protein–coupled receptor; KOP; MOP; Opioid; Opioid receptor

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