Effects of atypical kappa-opioid receptor agonists on intrathecal morphine-induced itch and analgesia in primates

M C Ko, S M Husbands

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74 Citations (SciVal)


Itch/pruritus is the most common side effect associated with spinal administration of morphine given to humans for analgesia. The aim of this study was to investigate the effectiveness of -opioid receptor (KOR) agonists with diverse chemical structures as antipruritics and to elucidate the receptor mechanism underlying the antipruritic effect in monkeys. In particular, previously proposed non-KOR-1 agonists, including nalfurafine [TRK-820, 17-cyclopropylmethyl-3,14β-dihydroxy-4,5-epoxy-6β-[N-methyl-trans-3-(3-furyl)acrylamido]morphinan], bremazocine [(±)-6-ethyl-1,2,3,4,5,6-hexahydro-3-[(1-hydroxycyclopropy)-methyl]-11,11-dimethyl-2,6-methano-3-benzazocin-8-ol], and GR 89696 [4-[(3,4-dichlorophenyl)acetyl]-3-(1-pyrrolidinylmethyl)-1-piperazinecarboxylic acid methyl ester] were studied in various behavioral assays for measuring itch/scratching, analgesia, and respiratory depression. Systemic administration of nalfurafine (0.1–1 µg/kg), bremazocine (0.1–1 µg/kg), or GR 89696 (0.01–0.1 µg/kg) dose-dependently attenuated intrathecal morphine (0.03 mg)-induced scratching responses without affecting morphine antinociception. The combination of intrathecal morphine with these KOR agonists did not cause sedation. In addition, pretreatment with effective antiscratching doses of nalfurafine, bremazocine, or GR 89696 did not antagonize systemic morphine-induced antinociception and respiratory depression. The dose-addition analysis revealed that there is no subadditivity for nalfurafine in combination with morphine in the antinociceptive effect. Furthermore, the KOR antagonist study revealed that antiscratching effects of both nalfurafine and a prototypical KOR-1 agonist, U-50488H [trans-(±)-3,4-dichloro-N-methyl-N-(2-[1-pyrrolidinyl]-cyclohexyl)-benzeneacetamide], could be blocked completely by a selective KOR antagonist, nor-binaltorphimine (3 mg/kg). These findings suggest that the agonist action on KOR mainly contributes to the effectiveness of these atypical KOR agonists as antipruritics, and there is no evidence for KOR subtypes or µ-opioid antagonist action underlying the effects of these KOR agonists. This mechanism-based study further supports the clinical potential of KOR agonists as antipruritics under the context of spinal opioid analgesia.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)193-200
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2009


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