Biased Ligands at the Kappa Opioid Receptor: Fine-Tuning Receptor Pharmacology

Handb Exp Pharmacol. 2022;271:115-135. doi: 10.1007/164_2020_395.


The kappa opioid receptor (KOR) is a G protein-coupled receptor (GPCR) that can signal through multiple signaling pathways. KOR agonists are known to relieve pain and itch, as well as induce dysphoria, sedation, hallucinations, and diuresis. As is the case with many other GPCRs, specific signaling pathways downstream of the KOR have been linked to certain physiological responses induced by the receptor. Those studies motivated the search and discovery of a number of KOR ligands that preferentially activate one signaling pathway over another. Such compounds are termed functionally selective or biased ligands, and may present a way of inducing desired receptor effects with reduced adverse reactions. In this chapter, I review the molecular intricacies of KOR signaling and discuss the studies that have used biased signaling through the KOR as a way to selectively modulate in vivo physiology.

Keywords: Functional selectivity; G protein-coupled receptor; G proteins; Kappa opioid receptor; Ligand bias; Pain; βarrestin.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Ligands
  • Pain
  • Receptors, Opioid, kappa*
  • Signal Transduction*
  • beta-Arrestins


  • Ligands
  • Receptors, Opioid, kappa
  • beta-Arrestins