Forebrain delta opioid receptors regulate the response of delta agonist in models of migraine and opioid-induced hyperalgesia

Sci Rep. 2020 Oct 19;10(1):17629. doi: 10.1038/s41598-020-74605-9.


Delta opioid receptor (DOR) agonists have been identified as a promising novel therapy for headache disorders. DORs are broadly expressed in several peripheral and central regions important for pain processing and mood regulation; and it is unclear which receptors regulate headache associated symptoms. In a model of chronic migraine-associated pain using the human migraine trigger, nitroglycerin, we observed increased expression of DOR in cortex, hippocampus, and striatum; suggesting a role for these forebrain regions in the regulation of migraine. To test this hypothesis, we used conditional knockout mice with DORs deleted from forebrain GABAergic neurons (Dlx-DOR), and investigated the outcome of this knockout on the effectiveness of the DOR agonist SNC80 in multiple headache models. In DOR loxP controls SNC80 blocked the development of acute and chronic cephalic allodynia in the chronic nitroglycerin model, an effect that was lost in Dlx-DOR mice. In addition, the anti-allodynic effects of SNC80 were lost in a model of opioid induced hyperalgesia/medication overuse headache in Dlx-DOR conditional knockouts. In a model reflecting negative affect associated with migraine, SNC80 was only effective in loxP controls and not Dlx-DOR mice. Similarly, SNC80 was ineffective in the cortical spreading depression model of migraine aura in conditional knockout mice. Taken together, these data indicate that forebrain DORs are necessary for the action of DOR agonists in relieving headache-related symptoms and suggest that forebrain regions may play an important role in migraine modulation.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Analgesics, Opioid / pharmacology
  • Analgesics, Opioid / therapeutic use*
  • Animals
  • Benzamides / pharmacology
  • Benzamides / therapeutic use*
  • Cortical Spreading Depression / drug effects
  • Cortical Spreading Depression / physiology
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • GABAergic Neurons / drug effects
  • GABAergic Neurons / metabolism
  • Hyperalgesia / chemically induced
  • Hyperalgesia / drug therapy
  • Hyperalgesia / metabolism*
  • Mice
  • Mice, Knockout
  • Migraine Disorders / chemically induced
  • Migraine Disorders / drug therapy
  • Migraine Disorders / metabolism*
  • Nitroglycerin
  • Piperazines / pharmacology
  • Piperazines / therapeutic use*
  • Prosencephalon / drug effects
  • Prosencephalon / metabolism*
  • Receptors, Opioid, delta / agonists
  • Receptors, Opioid, delta / genetics
  • Receptors, Opioid, delta / metabolism*


  • Analgesics, Opioid
  • Benzamides
  • Piperazines
  • Receptors, Opioid, delta
  • 4-(alpha-(4-allyl-2,5-dimethyl-1-piperazinyl)-3-methoxybenzyl)-N,N-diethylbenzamide
  • Nitroglycerin