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Important Receptors Discovered Related to Morphine Use

Those who experience severe acute pain or chronic pain often rely on the use of painkillers to improve their quality of life. For some with chronic pain, they may use pain medication on an ongoing basis, balanced with a concern that with some types of painkillers, addiction is a risk.

Researchers from the University of Colorado-Boulder have discovered that there are two key receptors in the central nervous system that work together to react to the introduction of morphine. The result is neuroinflammation, an unwanted condition. The findings of the study could aid in the improvement of the painkiller morphine to make it more effective, and could also help reduce its addictive risks.

Previous research has helped scientist to develop knowledge about the protein receptor known as toll-like receptor 4, called TLR4, explains CU-Boulder Assistant Professor Hang Yin, of the chemistry and biochemistry department. Professor Yin led the study. TLR4 is useful in activating inflammation-signaling pathways in order to recognize and reject foreign items like certain bacteria.

The current study shows that morphine also triggers this type of neuroinflammation, by first binding to a different receptor that works together with TLR4 in order to respond to morphine in the central nervous system.

The findings from the study may be helpful in researching the development of new drugs that can increase the effectiveness of painkillers like morphine, but also may help scientists activate the receptors in a way that does not lend itself to drug addiction.

The capability could help in the improvement of not only morphine, but also methamphetamines, cocaine, and may even be extended to alcohol. Knowledge of the receptors could help decrease side effects in medications as well, such as dependence, tolerance and addiction.

Yin explains that while inflammation is part of the natural process of the body, initiated in order to ward off infection, an excessive amount of inflammation is not desirable. Yin hopes that the discovery of the receptors may help scientists further understand morphine-related inflammation and help lead to the improvement of morphine with reduced side effects.

Chronic pain is experienced by millions of Americans, and for some the problems are debilitating. Pain patients are sometimes unable to perform simple tasks, such as getting themselves dressed. This type of pain is distinct from pain resulting from injury, which generally disappears after recovery.

Chronic pain often affects those who endure ongoing pain due to a chronic disease, such as cancer or AIDS. The researchers hope that with the discovery of ways to potentially improve pain medicine, they can improve the quality of life for those who suffer daily with pain.

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