The evolution of vertebrate opioid receptors

Front Biosci (Landmark Ed). 2009 Jan 1;14:1247-69. doi: 10.2741/3306.


The proteins that mediate the analgesic and other effects of opioid drugs and endogenous opioid peptides are known as opioid receptors. Opioid receptors consist of a family of four closely-related proteins belonging to the large superfamily of G-protein coupled receptors. The three types of opioid receptors shown unequivocally to mediate analgesia in animal models are the mu (MOR), delta (DOR), and kappa (KOR) opioid receptor proteins. The role of the fourth member of the opioid receptor family, the nociceptin or orphanin FQ receptor (ORL), is not as clear as hyperalgesia, analgesia, and no effect was reported after administration of ORL agonists. There are now cDNA sequences for all four types of opioid receptors that are expressed in the brain of six species from three different classes of vertebrates. This review presents a comparative analysis of vertebrate opioid receptors using bioinformatics and data from recent human genome studies. Results indicate that opioid receptors arose by gene duplication, that there is a vector of opioid receptor divergence, and that MOR shows evidence of rapid evolution.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Evolution, Molecular*
  • Gene Duplication
  • Genome, Human
  • Humans
  • Receptors, Opioid / genetics*
  • Vertebrates


  • Receptors, Opioid