First published March 26, 2019 - More info
Identifying non-addictive opioid medications is a high priority in medical sciences, but μ-opioid receptors mediate both the analgesic and addictive effects of opioids. We found a significant pharmacodynamic difference between morphine and methadone that is determined entirely by heteromerization of μ-opioid receptors with galanin Gal1 receptors, rendering a profound decrease in the potency of methadone. This was explained by methadone’s weaker proficiency to activate the dopaminergic system as compared to morphine and predicted a dissociation of therapeutic versus euphoric effects of methadone, which was corroborated by a significantly lower incidence of self-report of “high” in methadone-maintained patients. These results suggest that μ-opioid-Gal1 receptor heteromers mediate the dopaminergic effects of opioids that may lead to a lower addictive liability of opioids with selective low potency for the μ-opioid-Gal1 receptor heteromer, exemplified by methadone.