The kappa opioid receptor (KOR) is widely expressed in the CNS and can serve as a means to modulate pain perception, stress responses, and affective reward states. Therefore, the KOR has become a prominent drug discovery target toward treating pain, depression, and drug addiction. Agonists at KOR can promote G protein coupling and βarrestin2 recruitment as well as multiple downstream signaling pathways, including ERK1/2 MAPK activation. It has been suggested that the physiological effects of KOR activation result from different signaling cascades, with analgesia being G protein-mediated and dysphoria being mediated through βarrestin2 recruitment. Dysphoria associated with KOR activation limits the therapeutic potential in the use of KOR agonists as analgesics; therefore, it may be beneficial to develop KOR agonists that are biased toward G protein coupling and away from βarrestin2 recruitment. Here, we describe two classes of biased KOR agonists that potently activate G protein coupling but weakly recruit βarrestin2. These potent and functionally selective small molecule compounds may prove to be useful tools for refining the therapeutic potential of KOR-directed signaling in vivo.
Keywords: Arrestin; Brain; Drug Discovery; Dysphoria; ERK; G Protein-coupled Receptors (GPCR); Kappa Opioid Receptor; Opiate Opioid; Pain.