Identification of short-acting κ-opioid receptor antagonists with anxiolytic-like activity

Eur J Pharmacol. 2011 Jul 1;661(1-3):27-34. doi: 10.1016/j.ejphar.2011.04.017. Epub 2011 Apr 27.


The κ-opioid receptor plays a central role in mediating the response to stressful life events. Inhibiting κ-opioid receptor signaling is proposed as a mechanism for treating stress-related conditions such as depression and anxiety. Preclinical testing consistently confirms that disruption of κ-opioid signaling is efficacious in animal models of mood disorders. However, concerns about the feasibility of developing antagonists into drugs stem from an unusual pharmacodynamic property of prototypic κ-opioid receptor-selective antagonists; they inhibit receptor signaling for weeks to months after a single dose. Several fundamental questions include - is it possible to identify short-acting antagonists; is long-lasting inhibition necessary for efficacy; and is it safe to develop long-acting antagonists in the clinic. Here, we test representative compounds (AZ-ECPC, AZ-MTAB, and LY-DMPF) from three new chemical series of κ-opioid receptor ligands for long-lasting inhibition. Each compound dose-dependently reversed κ-opioid agonist-induced diuresis. However, unlike the prototypic antagonist, nBNI, which fully inhibited evoked diuresis for at least four weeks, the new compounds showed no inhibition after one week. The two compounds with greater potency and selectivity were tested in prenatally-stressed rats on the elevated plus maze, an exploration-based model of anxiety. Spontaneous exploration of open arms in the elevated plus maze was suppressed by prenatal stress and restored with both compounds. These findings indicate that persistent inhibition is not an inherent property of κ-opioid-selective antagonists and that post-stress dosing with transient inhibitors can be effective in a mood disorder model. This further supports κ-opioid receptor as a promising target for developing novel psychiatric medications.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anti-Anxiety Agents / pharmacology*
  • Anti-Anxiety Agents / therapeutic use
  • Behavior, Animal / drug effects
  • Diuresis / drug effects
  • Drug Evaluation, Preclinical
  • Inhibition, Psychological
  • Male
  • Maze Learning / drug effects
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Receptors, Opioid, kappa / antagonists & inhibitors*
  • Stress, Psychological / drug therapy
  • Stress, Psychological / physiopathology
  • Time Factors


  • Anti-Anxiety Agents
  • Receptors, Opioid, kappa