Endogenous opioid system: a promising target for future smoking cessation medications
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Background: Nicotine addiction continues to be a health challenge across the world. Despite several approved medications, smokers continue to relapse. Several human and animal studies have evaluated the role of the endogenous opioid system as a potential target for smoking cessation medications. Methods: In this review, studies that have elucidated the role of the mu (MORs), delta (DORs), and kappa (KORs) opioid receptors in nicotine reward, nicotine withdrawal, and reinstatement of nicotine seeking will be discussed. Additionally, the review will discuss discrepancies in the literature and therapeutic potential of the endogenous opioid system, and suggest studies to address gaps in knowledge with respect to the role of the opioid receptors in nicotine dependence. Results: Data available till date suggest that blockade of the MORs and DORs decreased the rewarding effects of nicotine, while activation of the MORs and DORs decreased nicotine withdrawal-induced aversive effects. In contrast, activation of the KORs decreased the rewarding effects of nicotine, while blockade of the KORs decreased nicotine withdrawal-induced aversive effects. Interestingly, blockade of the MORs and KORs attenuated reinstatement of nicotine seeking. In humans, MOR antagonists have shown benefits in select subpopulations of smokers and further investigation is required to realize their full therapeutic potential. Conclusion: Future work must assess the influence of polymorphisms in opioid receptor-linked genes in nicotine dependence, which will help in both identifying individuals vulnerable to nicotine addiction and the development of opioid-based smoking cessation medications. Overall, the endogenous opioid system continues to be a promising target for future smoking cessation medications.
Norman H, D'Souza MS (2017) Endogenous opioid system: a promising target for future smoking cessation medications. Psychopharmacology (Berl). 234:1371-94