The role of kappa-opioid receptor activation in mediating antinociception and addiction

Acta Pharmacol Sin. 2010 Sep;31(9):1065-70. doi: 10.1038/aps.2010.138. Epub 2010 Aug 23.


The kappa-opioid receptor (KOR), a member of the opioid receptor family, is widely expressed in the central nervous system and peripheral tissues. Substantial evidence has shown that activation of KOR by agonists and endogenous opioid peptides in vivo may produce a strong analgesic effect that is free from the abuse potential and the adverse side effects of mu-opioid receptor (MOR) agonists, such as morphine. In addition, activation of the KOR has also been shown to exert an inverse effect on morphine-induced adverse actions, such as tolerance, reward, and impairment of learning and memory. Therefore, the KOR has received much attention in the effort to develop alternative analgesics to MOR agonists and agents for the treatment of drug addiction. However, KOR agonists also produce several severe undesirable side effects such as dysphoria, water diuresis, salivation, emesis, and sedation in nonhuman primates, which may limit the clinical utility of KOR agonists for pain and drug abuse treatment. This article will review the role of KOR activation in mediating antinociception and addiction. The possible therapeutic application of kappa-agonists in the treatment of pain and drug addiction is also discussed.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Analgesics / pharmacology
  • Analgesics / therapeutic use*
  • Animals
  • Humans
  • Pain / drug therapy
  • Receptors, Opioid, kappa / agonists*
  • Receptors, Opioid, kappa / metabolism*
  • Substance-Related Disorders / drug therapy*


  • Analgesics
  • Receptors, Opioid, kappa