Opioids are the gold-standard treatment for severe pain. However, potentially life-threatening side effects decrease the safety and effectiveness of these compounds. The addiction liability of these drugs has led to the current epidemic of opioid abuse in the US. Extensive research efforts have focused on trying to dissociate the analgesic properties of opioids from their undesirable side effects. Splice variants of the mu opioid receptor (MOR), which mediates opioid actions, have unique pharmacological properties and anatomic distributions that make them attractive candidates for therapeutic pain relief. In this issue of the JCI, Xu et al. show that specific C-terminal regions of the MOR can modulate side effects without altering analgesia. This discovery greatly improves our understanding of opioid side effects and suggests intriguing therapeutic approaches that could improve both the safety and long-term effectiveness of opioids.
Stephanie Puig, Howard B. Gutstein
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