The way in which medical professionals treat inflammatory diseases may soon change after a recent study of the effects of opioids on the immune system of live animals was released by the Tokyo University of Science and University of Tsukuba.
Opioids are a class of substances that bind with the body’s opioid receptors and relieve pain. While drug forms of opioids like morphine are synthesized in labs, our bodies also produce their own form of opiates known as endorphins through things like exercise.
Scientists for a long time believed that opioid receptors were only found as part of the central nervous system (CNS), and their discovery throughout other parts of the body has sparked many questions about what rolls they may play in our health.
In this peer-reviewed study, an artificial opioid known as KNT-127 was synthesized to be able to activate certain opioid receptors known as delta receptors. The drug was then administered to a group of mice with induced inflammatory bowel disease (IBD); the control group was given plain water. The mice given opiates showed improvements in markers for colon inflammation (colitis) and lost less weight than those in the control group.
The researchers then repeated the experiment with a slightly altered version of the initial opioid used - this one synthesized so as to not be able to cross the blood-brain barrier, in order to ensure that the anti-inflammatory effect was unrelated to opioid receptors within the central nervous system (CNS). The results were similar for each version of the drug, “confirming that its anti-inflammatory effects were indeed CNS-independent.”
Following this confirmation, the researchers went on to explore further how the initial opioid used would influence the immune system, discovering multiple ways that the drug had an anti-inflammatory effect on the colitis of the mice.
In a press release from the Tokyo University of Science, Hiroshi Nagase, one of the study’s authors and chief developer of the drug used explained that "Several people around the world suffer from diseases related to colon inflammation, and so far, optimal treatment strategies are lacking. Our findings show that KNT-127 and other activators of opioid receptors could be promising therapeutic options for such diseases." He continued to say that "Before these drugs are used clinically, additional experiments will be required to elucidate how they exert their immunomodulatory functions and what their effects on other immune diseases are.”
The press release described the study as “an important milestone, not only towards the treatment of IBD but also towards our understanding of the "brain-gut axis"—the interrelationship between brain and gut function.”