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1.  Rapid Synthesis of Boc-2′,6′-dimethyl-l-tyrosine and Derivatives and Incorporation into Opioid Peptidomimetics 
ACS Medicinal Chemistry Letters  2015;6(12):1199-1203.
The unnatural amino acid 2′,6′-dimethyl-l-tyrosine has found widespread use in the development of synthetic opioid ligands. Opioids featuring this residue at the N-terminus often display superior potency at one or more of the opioid receptor types, but the availability of the compound is hampered by its cost and difficult synthesis. We report here a short, three-step synthesis of Boc-2′,6′-dimethyl-l-tyrosine (3a) utilizing a microwave-assisted Negishi coupling for the key carbon–carbon bond forming step, and employ this chemistry for the expedient synthesis of other unnatural tyrosine derivatives. Three of these derivatives (3c, 3d, 3f) have not previously been examined as Tyr1 replacements in opioid ligands. We describe the incorporation of these tyrosine derivatives in a series of opioid peptidomimetics employing our previously reported tetrahydroquinoline (THQ) scaffold, and the binding and relative efficacy of each of the analogues at the three opioid receptor subtypes: mu (MOR), delta (DOR), and kappa (KOR).
PMCID: PMC4677371  PMID: 26713104
Negishi coupling; microwave synthesis; opioid peptidomimetics; tetrahydroquinoline; 2′,6′-dimethyl-l-tyrosine
2.  Asymmetric Synthesis and In Vitro and In Vivo Activity of Tetrahydroquinolines Featuring a Diverse Set of Polar Substitutions at the 6 Position as Mixed Efficacy μ Opioid Receptor/δ Opioid Receptor Ligands 
ACS chemical neuroscience  2015;6(8):1428-1435.
We have previously reported a small series of mixed efficacy μ opioid receptor (MOR) agonist/δ opioid receptor (DOR) antagonist opioid peptidomimetics featuring a tetrahydroquinoline (THQ) scaffold, and showed the promise of this series as effective analgesics after intraperitoneal administration in mice. We report here expanded SAR of the pendant region of these compounds and focus in particular on the incorporation of heteroatoms into this side chain. These analogues provide new insight into the binding requirements for this scaffold at MOR, DOR, and the κ opioid receptor (KOR), and several (10j,k,m,n) significantly improve upon the overall MOR agonist/DOR antagonist profile of our previous compounds. In vivo data for 10j,k,m,n are also reported, and show the antinociceptive potency and duration of action of compounds 10j and 10m to be comparable to morphine.
PMCID: PMC4676711  PMID: 25938166
Opioid; mixed efficacy; intraperitoneal; dependence; tolerance; tetrahydroquinoline
3.  Further Optimization and Evaluation of Bioavailable, Mixed-Efficacy µ-Opioid Receptor (MOR) Agonists/δ-Opioid Receptor (DOR) Antagonists: Balancing MOR and DOR Affinities 
Journal of medicinal chemistry  2015;58(22):8952-8969.
In a previously described peptidomimetic series, we reported the development of bifunctional µ-opioid receptor (MOR) agonist and δ-opioid receptor (DOR) antagonist ligands with a lead compound that produced antinociception for 1 h after intraperitoneal administration in mice. In this paper, we expand on our original series by presenting two modifications, both of which were designed with the following objectives: 1) probing bioavailability and improving metabolic stability, 2) balancing affinities between MOR and DOR while reducing affinity and efficacy at the Κ-opioid receptor (KOR), and 3) improving in vivo efficacy. Here we establish that through N-acetylation of our original peptidomimetic series, we are able to improve DOR affinity and increase selectivity relative to KOR while maintaining the desired MOR agonist/DOR antagonist profile. From initial in vivo studies, one compound (14a) was found to produce dose-dependent antinociception after peripheral administration with an improved duration of action of longer than 3 h.
PMCID: PMC4772774  PMID: 26524472
4.  Structural insights into μ-opioid receptor activation 
Nature  2015;524(7565):315-321.
Activation of the μ-opioid receptor (μOR) is responsible for the efficacy of the most effective analgesics. To understand the structural basis for μOR activation, we obtained a 2.1 Å X-ray crystal structure of the μOR bound to the morphinan agonist BU72 and stabilized by a G protein-mimetic camelid-antibody fragment. The BU72-stabilized changes in the μOR binding pocket are subtle and differ from those observed for agonist-bound structures of the β2 adrenergic receptor (β2AR) and the M2 muscarinic receptor (M2R). Comparison with active β2AR reveals a common rearrangement in the packing of three conserved amino acids in the core of the μOR, and molecular dynamics simulations illustrate how the ligand-binding pocket is conformationally linked to this conserved triad. Additionally, an extensive polar network between the ligand-binding pocket and the cytoplasmic domains appears to play a similar role in signal propagation for all three GPCRs.
PMCID: PMC4639397  PMID: 26245379
5.  Nucleus accumbens shell excitability is decreased by methamphetamine self-administration and increased by 5-HT2C receptor inverse agonism and agonism 
Neuropharmacology  2014;89:113-121.
Methamphetamine profoundly increases brain monoamines and is a widely abused psychostimulant. The effects of methamphetamine self-administration on neuron function are not known for the nucleus accumbens, a brain region involved in addictive behaviors, including drug-seeking. One therapeutic target showing preclinical promise at attenuating psychostimulant-seeking is 5-HT2C receptors; however, the effects of 5-HT2C receptor ligands on neuronal physiology are unclear. 5-HT2C receptor agonism decreases psychostimulant-mediated behaviors, and the putative 5-HT2C receptor inverse agonist, SB 206553, attenuates methamphetamine-seeking in rats. To ascertain the effects of methamphetamine, and 5-HT2C receptor inverse agonism and agonism, on neuronal function in the nucleus accumbens, we evaluated methamphetamine, SB 206553, and the 5-HT2C receptor agonist and Ro 60-0175, on neuronal excitability within the accumbens shell subregion using whole-cell current-clamp recordings in forebrain slices ex vivo. We reveal that methamphetamine self-administration decreased generation of evoked action potentials. In contrast, SB 206553 and Ro 60-0175 increased evoked spiking, effects that were prevented by the 5-HT2C receptor antagonist, SB 242084. We also assessed signaling mechanisms engaged by 5-HT2C receptors, and determined that accumbal 5-HT2C receptors stimulated Gq, but not Gi/o. These findings demonstrate that methamphetamine-induced decreases in excitability of neurons within the nucleus accumbens shell were abrogated by both 5-HT2C inverse agonism and agonism, and this effect likely involved activation of Gq–mediated signaling pathways.
PMCID: PMC4321813  PMID: 25229719
6.  Discovery, Synthesis, and Molecular Pharmacology of Selective Positive Allosteric Modulators of the δ-Opioid Receptor 
Journal of medicinal chemistry  2015;58(10):4220-4229.
Allosteric modulators of G protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs) have a number of potential advantages compared to agonists or antagonists that bind to the orthosteric site of the receptor. These include the potential or receptor selectivity, maintenance of the temporal and spatial fidelity of signaling in vivo, the ceiling effect of the allosteric cooperativity which may prevent overdose issues, and engendering bias by differentially modulating distinct signaling pathways. Here we describe the discovery, synthesis, and molecular pharmacology of δ-opioid receptor-selective positive allosteric modulators (δ PAMs). These δ PAMs increase the affinity and/or efficacy of the orthosteric agonists leu-enkephalin, SNC80 and TAN67, as measured by receptor binding, G protein activation, β-arrestin recruitment, adenylyl cyclase inhibition, and extracellular signal-regulated kinases (ERK) activation. As such, these compounds are useful pharmacological tools to probe the molecular pharmacology of the δ receptor and to explore the therapeutic potential of δ PAMs in diseases such as chronic pain and depression.
Graphical abstract
PMCID: PMC4703104  PMID: 25901762
7.  Ligand-Based Discovery of a New Scaffold for Allosteric Modulation of the μ-Opioid Receptor 
With the hope of discovering effective analgesics with fewer side effects, attention has recently shifted to allosteric modulators of the opioid receptors. In the past two years, the first chemotypes of positive or silent allosteric modulators (PAMs or SAMs, respectively) of μ- and δ-opioid receptor types have been reported in the literature. During a structure-guided lead optimization campaign with μ-PAMs BMS-986121 and BMS-986122 as starting compounds, we discovered a new chemotype that was confirmed to display μ-PAM or μ-SAM activity depending on the specific substitutions as assessed by endomorphin-1-stimulated β-arrestin2 recruitment assays in Chinese Hamster Ovary (CHO)-μ PathHunter cells. The most active μ-PAM of this series was analyzed further in competition binding and G-protein activation assays to understand its effects on ligand binding and to investigate the nature of its probe dependence.
Graphical abstract
PMCID: PMC4703110  PMID: 26347990
8.  Challenges for opioid receptor nomenclature: IUPHAR Review 9 
British Journal of Pharmacology  2014;172(2):317-323.
Recent developments in the study of the structure and function of opioid receptors raise significant challenges for the definition of individual receptor types and the development of a nomenclature that precisely describes isoforms that may subserve different functions in vivo. Presentations at the 2013 meeting of the International Narcotics Research Conference in Cairns, Australia, considered some of the new discoveries that are now unravelling the complexities of opioid receptor signalling. Variable processing of opioid receptor messenger RNAs may lead to the presence of several isoforms of the μ receptor. Each opioid receptor type can function either as a monomer or as part of a homo- or heterodimer or higher multimer. Additionally, recent evidence points to the existence of agonist bias in the signal transduction pathways activated through μ receptors, and to the presence of regulatory allosteric sites on the receptors. This brief review summarizes the recent discoveries that raise challenges for receptor definition and the characterization of signal transduction pathways activated by specific receptor forms.
This article is part of a themed section on Opioids: New Pathways to Functional Selectivity. To view the other articles in this section visit
PMCID: PMC4292949  PMID: 24528283
9.  C7β-Methyl Analogues of the Orvinols: The Discovery of Kappa Opioid Antagonists with Nociceptin/Orphanin FQ Peptide (NOP) Receptor Partial Agonism and Low, or Zero, Efficacy at Mu Opioid Receptors 
Journal of Medicinal Chemistry  2015;58(10):4242-4249.
Buprenorphine is a successful analgesic and treatment for opioid abuse, with both activities relying on its partial agonist activity at mu opioid receptors. However, there is substantial interest in its activities at the kappa opioid and nociceptin/orphanin FQ peptide receptors. This has led to an interest in developing compounds with a buprenorphine-like pharmacological profile but with lower efficacy at mu opioid receptors. The present article describes aryl ring analogues of buprenorphine in which the standard C20-methyl group has been moved to the C7β position, resulting in ligands with the desired profile. In particular, moving the methyl group has resulted in far more robust kappa opioid antagonist activity than seen in the standard orvinol series. Of the compounds synthesized, a number, including 15a, have a profile of interest for the development of drug abuse relapse prevention therapies or antidepressants and others (e.g., 8c), as analgesics with a reduced side-effect profile.
PMCID: PMC4450370  PMID: 25898137
10.  Selectively Promiscuous Opioid Ligands: Discovery of High Affinity/Low Efficacy Opioid Ligands with Substantial Nociceptin Opioid Peptide Receptor Affinity 
Journal of Medicinal Chemistry  2014;57(10):4049-4057.
Emerging clinical and preclinical evidence suggests that a compound displaying high affinity for μ, κ, and δ opioid (MOP, KOP, and DOP) receptors and antagonist activity at each, coupled with moderate affinity and efficacy at nociceptin opioid peptide (NOP) receptors will have utility as a relapse prevention agent for multiple types of drug abuse. Members of the orvinol family of opioid ligands have the desired affinity profile but have typically displayed substantial efficacy at MOP and or KOP receptors. In this study it is shown that a phenyl ring analogue (1d) of buprenorphine displays the desired profile in vitro with high, nonselective affinity for the MOP, KOP, and DOP receptors coupled with moderate affinity for NOP receptors. In vivo, 1d lacked any opioid agonist activity and was an antagonist of both the MOP receptor agonist morphine and the KOP receptor agonist ethylketocyclazocine, confirming the desired opioid receptor profile in vivo.
PMCID: PMC4033651  PMID: 24761755
11.  G Protein independent phosphorylation and internalization of the δ-opioid receptor 
Journal of neurochemistry  2009;109(5):1526-1535.
Agonist activation of the δ-opioid receptor leads to internalization via Gβγ recruitment of G protein coupled receptor kinase-2, which phosphorylates the receptor at several sites, including Ser363, allowing β-arrestin binding and localization to clathrin coated pits. Using HEK cells expressing a δ-opioid receptor we tested the hypothesis that prevention of receptor coupling to G protein by treatment with pertussis toxin (PTX) will block these processes. PTX treatment did not reduce phosphorylation of δ-opioid receptor Ser363 in response to the agonist DPDPE, or recruitment of β-arrestin 2-GFP to the membrane and only slowed, but did not prevent, DPDPE-induced internalization. Similarly PTX treatment only partially prevented the ability of the δ-opioid peptide agonists deltorphin II and [Met5]enkephalin and the non-peptide agonist BW373U86 to induce receptor internalization. No internalization was seen with morphine, oxymorphindole or the putative δ1-opioid agonist TAN-67 in the presence or absence of PTX, even though TAN-67 showed a strong activation of G protein, as measured by [35S]GTPγS binding. The ability of an agonist to stimulate phosphorylation at Ser363 was predictive of its capacity to induce internalization. The results suggest a role for G protein in δ-opioid receptor internalization, but show that alternative G protein independent pathways exist.
PMCID: PMC4372060  PMID: 19344370
β-arrestin; δ-opioid receptor; G protein coupled receptor kinase; internalization; pertussis toxin; phosphorylation
12.  Characterization of BU09059: A Novel Potent Selective κ-Receptor Antagonist 
ACS Chemical Neuroscience  2014;5(3):177-184.
Kappa-opioid receptor (κ) antagonists are potential therapeutic agents for a range of psychiatric disorders. The feasibility of developing κ-antagonists has been limited by the pharmacodynamic properties of prototypic κ-selective antagonists; that is, they inhibit receptor signaling for weeks after a single administration. To address this issue, novel trans-(3R,4R)-dimethyl-4-(3-hydroxyphenyl) piperidine derivatives, based on JDTic, were designed using soft-drug principles. The aim was to determine if the phenylpiperidine-based series of κ-antagonists was amenable to incorporation of a potentially metabolically labile group, while retaining good affinity and selectivity for the κ-receptor. Opioid receptor binding affinity and selectivity of three novel compounds (BU09057, BU09058, and BU09059) were tested. BU09059, which most closely resembles JDTic, had nanomolar affinity for the κ-receptor, with 15-fold and 616-fold selectivity over μ- and δ-receptors, respectively. In isolated tissues, BU09059 was a potent and selective κ-antagonist (pA2 8.62) compared with BU09057 (pA2 6.87) and BU09058 (pA2 6.76) which were not κ-selective. In vivo, BU09059 (3 and 10 mg/kg) significantly blocked U50,488-induced antinociception and was as potent as, but shorter acting than, the prototypic selective κ-antagonist norBNI. These data show that a new JDTic analogue, BU09059, retains high affinity and selectivity for the κ-receptor and has a shorter duration of κ-antagonist action in vivo.
PMCID: PMC3963132  PMID: 24410326
kappa-opioid receptor; kappa antagonist; mu antagonist; norBNI; tail-withdrawal assay; CD-1 mouse
13.  Development of a Bioavailable μ Opioid Receptor (MOPr) Agonist, δ Opioid Receptor (DOPr) Antagonist Peptide That Evokes Antinociception without Development of Acute Tolerance 
Journal of Medicinal Chemistry  2014;57(7):3148-3153.
We have previously described a cyclic tetrapeptide, 1, that displays μ opioid receptor (MOPr) agonist and δ opioid receptor (DOPr) antagonist activity, a profile associated with a reduced incidence of opioid tolerance and dependence. Like many peptides, 1 has poor bioavailability. We describe here an analogue of 1 with an added C-terminal β-glucosylserine residue, Ser(β-Glc)NH2, a modification that has previously been shown to improve bioavailability of opioid peptides. The resulting peptide, 4, exhibits full antinociceptive efficacy in the mouse warm water tail withdrawal assay after intraperitoneal administration with potency similar to that of morphine. Further, 4 does not give rise to acute tolerance and thus represents a promising lead for the development of opioid analgesics with reduced side effects.
PMCID: PMC3993928  PMID: 24641190
14.  In vivo and in vitro characterization of naltrindole-derived ligands at the κ-opioid receptor 
Accumulating evidence supports a role for κ−opioid receptor antagonists in the treatment of mood disorders. Standard κ-antagonists have an unusual pharmacodynamic action, with a single injection blocking receptor signalling for several weeks. Here, we have characterized the κ-selective properties of two ligands, 5’-(2-aminomethyl) naltrindole (5’-AMN) and N-(Naltrindol-5-yl)methyl)pentanimidamide (5’-MABN), to identify whether modifications of the naltrindole side chain produces short-acting κ-antagonists. Opioid receptor binding affinity and activity were assessed using [3H]-diprenorphine binding, [35S]-GTPγS binding and the isolated guinea-pig ileum. Pharmacodynamic profiles of 5’-AMN and 5’-MABN (1–10 mg/kg) were investigated using the tail-withdrawal assay and diuresis. Efficacy was also determined in depression- and anxiety-related behavioural paradigms in CD-1 mice. 5’-AMN and 5’-MABN had high affinity for κ−receptors (Ki 1.36 ± 0.98 and 0.27 ± 0.08, respectively) and were revealed as potent κ-antagonists (pA2 7.43 and 8.18, respectively) and μ-receptor antagonists (pA2 7.62 and 7.85, respectively) in the ileum. Contrary to our hypothesis, in vivo, 5’-AMN and 5’-MABN displayed long-lasting antagonist effects in mice, reducing the antinociceptive actions of U50,488 (10 mg/kg) at 28 and 21 days post-injection, respectively. Interestingly, while 5’-AMN and 5’-MABN were not k-selective, both compounds did show significant antidepressant- and anxiolytic-like effects at 7–14 days post-injection in mice.
PMCID: PMC4361741  PMID: 23118019
depression; anxiety; kappa opioid receptor; kappa antagonist; mu antagonist; norBNI
15.  Synthesis and evaluation of 4-substituted piperidines and piperazines as balanced affinity µ opioid receptor (MOR) agonist/δ opioid receptor (DOR) antagonist ligands 
In this report, we describe a series of 4-substituted piperidine and piperazine compounds based on tetrahydroquinoline 1, a compound that shows balanced, low nanomolar binding affinity for the mu opioid receptor (MOR) and the delta opioid receptor (DOR). We have shown that by changing the length and flexibility profile of the side chain in this position, binding affinity is improved at both receptors by a significant degree. Furthermore, several of the compounds described herein display good efficacy at MOR, while simultaneously displaying DOR antagonism. The MOR agonist/DOR antagonist has shown promise in the reduction of negative side effects displayed by selective MOR agonists, namely the development of dependence and tolerance.
PMCID: PMC3919453  PMID: 24365161
16.  Translation of Structure-Activity Relationships from Cyclic Mixed Efficacy Opioid Peptides to Linear Analogues 
Biopolymers  2014;102(1):107-114.
Most opioid analgesics used in the treatment of pain are mu opioid receptor (MOR) agonists. While effective, there are significant drawbacks to opioid use, including the development of tolerance and dependence. However, the co-administration of a MOR agonist with a delta opioid receptor (DOR) antagonist slows the development of MOR-related side effects, while maintaining analgesia. We have previously reported a series of cyclic mixed efficacy MOR agonist/DOR antagonist ligands. Here we describe the transfer of key features from these cyclic analogs to linear sequences. Using the linear MOR/DOR agonist, Tyr-DThr-Gly-Phe-Leu-Ser-NH2 (DTLES), as a lead scaffold, we replaced Phe4 with bulkier and/or constrained aromatic residues shown to confer DOR antagonism in our cyclic ligands. These replacements failed to confer DOR antagonism in the DTLES analogs, presumably because the more flexible linear ligands can adopt binding poses that will fit in the narrow binding pocket of the active conformations of both MOR and DOR. Nonetheless, the pharmacological profile observed in this series, high affinity and efficacy for MOR and DOR with selectivity relative to KOR, has also been shown to reduce the development of unwanted side effects. We further modified our lead MOR/DOR agonist with a C-terminal glucoserine to improve bioavailability. The resulting ligand displayed high efficacy and potency at both MOR and DOR and no efficacy at KOR.
PMCID: PMC4132888  PMID: 24436042
17.  Differential Control of Opioid Antinociception to Thermal Stimuli in a Knock-In Mouse Expressing Regulator of G-Protein Signaling-Insensitive Gαo Protein 
Regulator of G-protein signaling (RGS) proteins classically function as negative modulators of G-protein-coupled receptor signaling. In vitro, RGS proteins have been shown to inhibit signaling by agonists at the μ-opioid receptor, including morphine. The goal of the present study was to evaluate the contribution of endogenous RGS proteins to the antinociceptive effects of morphine and other opioid agonists. To do this, a knock-in mouse that expresses an RGS-insensitive (RGSi) mutant Gαo protein, GαoG184S (Gαo RGSi), was evaluated for morphine or methadone antinociception in response to noxious thermal stimuli. Mice expressing Gαo RGSi subunits exhibited a naltrexone-sensitive enhancement of baseline latency in both the hot-plate and warm-water tail-withdrawal tests. In the hot-plate test, a measure of supraspinal nociception, morphine antinociception was increased, and this was associated with an increased ability of opioids to inhibit presynaptic GABA neurotransmission in the periaqueductal gray. In contrast, antinociception produced by either morphine or methadone was reduced in the tail-withdrawal test, a measure of spinal nociception. In whole-brain and spinal cord homogenates from mice expressing Gαo RGSi subunits, there was a small loss of Gαo expression and an accompanying decrease in basal G-protein activity. Our results strongly support a role for RGS proteins as negative regulators of opioid supraspinal antinociception and also reveal a potential novel function of RGS proteins as positive regulators of opioid spinal antinociceptive pathways.
PMCID: PMC3740968  PMID: 23467353
18.  Exploring pharmacological activities and signaling of morphinans substituted in position 6 as potent agonists interacting with the μ opioid receptor 
Molecular Pain  2014;10:48.
Opioid analgesics are the most effective drugs for the treatment of moderate to severe pain. However, they also produce several adverse effects that can complicate pain management. The μ opioid (MOP) receptor, a G protein-coupled receptor, is recognized as the opioid receptor type which primarily mediates the pharmacological actions of clinically used opioid agonists. The morphinan class of analgesics including morphine and oxycodone are of main importance as therapeutically valuable drugs. Though the natural alkaloid morphine contains a C-6-hydroxyl group and the semisynthetic derivative oxycodone has a 6-carbonyl function, chemical approaches have uncovered that functionalizing position 6 gives rise to a range of diverse activities. Hence, position 6 of N-methylmorphinans is one of the most manipulated sites, and is established to play a key role in ligand binding at the MOP receptor, efficacy, signaling, and analgesic potency. We have earlier reported on a chemically innovative modification in oxycodone resulting in novel morphinans with 6-acrylonitrile incorporated substructures.
This study describes in vitro and in vivo pharmacological activities and signaling of new morphinans substituted in position 6 with acrylonitrile and amido functions as potent agonists and antinociceptive agents interacting with MOP receptors. We show that the presence of a 6-cyano group in N-methylmorphinans has a strong influence on the binding to the opioid receptors and post-receptor signaling. One 6-cyano-N-methylmorphinan of the series was identified as the highest affinity and most selective MOP agonist, and very potent in stimulating G protein coupling and intracellular calcium release through the MOP receptor. In vivo, this MOP agonist showed to be greatly effective against thermal and chemical nociception in mice with marked increased antinociceptive potency than the lead molecule oxycodone.
Development of such novel chemotypes by targeting position 6 provides valuable insights on ligand-receptor interaction and molecular mode of action, and may aid in identification of opioid therapeutics with enhanced analgesic properties and fewer undesirable effects.
PMCID: PMC4121618  PMID: 25059282
Opioid receptors; Agonist; Morphine; Oxycodone; Pain; Analgesia; Signaling; G protein; Calcium mobilization
19.  Opioid Peptidomimetics: Leads for the Design of Bioavailable Mixed Efficacy Mu Opioid Receptor (MOR) Agonist/Delta Opioid Receptor (DOR) Antagonist Ligands 
Journal of medicinal chemistry  2013;56(5):2139-2149.
We have previously described opioid peptidomimetic, 1, employing a tetrahydroquinoline scaffold and modeled on a series of cyclic tetrapeptide opioid agonists. We have recently described modifications to these peptides that confer a mu opioid receptor (MOR) agonist, delta opioid receptor (DOR) antagonist profile, which has been shown to reduce the development of tolerance to the analgesic actions of MOR agonists. Several such bifunctional ligands have been reported, but none has been demonstrated to cross the blood brain barrier. Here we describe the transfer of structural features that evoked MOR agonist/DOR antagonist behavior in the cyclic peptides to the tetrahydroquinoline scaffold and show that the resulting peptidomimetics maintain the desired pharmacological profile. Further, the 4R diastereomer of 1 was fully efficacious and approximately equipotent to morphine in the mouse warm water tail withdrawal assay following intraperitoneal administration and thus a promising lead for the development of opioid analgesics with reduced tolerance.
PMCID: PMC3618660  PMID: 23419026
20.  Modulation of Opioid Receptor Ligand Affinity and Efficacy Using Active and Inactive State Receptor Models 
Chemical biology & drug design  2012;80(5):763-770.
Mu opioid receptor (MOR) agonists are widely used for the treatment of pain; however chronic use results in the development of tolerance and dependence. It has been demonstrated that co-administration of a MOR agonist with a delta opioid receptor (DOR) antagonist maintains the analgesia associated with MOR agonists, but with reduced negative side effects. Using our newly refined opioid receptor models for structure-based ligand design, we have synthesized several pentapeptides with tailored affinity and efficacy profiles. In particular, we have obtained pentapeptides 8, Tyr-c(S-S)[DCys-1Nal-Nle-Cys]NH2, and 12, Tyr-c(S-S)[DCys-1Nal-Nle-Cys]OH, which demonstrates high affinity and full agonist behavior at MOR, high affinity but very low efficacy for DOR, and minimal affinity for the kappa opioid receptor (KOR). Functional properties of these peptides as MOR agonists/DOR antagonists lacking undesired KOR activity make them promising candidates for future in vivo studies of MOR/DOR interactions. Subtle structural variation of 12, by substituting D-Cys5 for L-Cys5, generated analog 13 which maintains low nanomolar MOR and DOR affinity, but which displays no efficacy at either receptor. These results demonstrate the power and utility of accurate receptor models for structure-based ligand design, as well as the profound sensitivity of ligand function on its structure.
PMCID: PMC3465523  PMID: 22882801
Delta opioid receptor; G protein-coupled receptors; mixed efficacy ligand; mu opioid receptor; opioid; peptide; structure-based design
21.  Increased agonist affinity at the mu-opioid receptor induced by prolonged agonist exposure 
Prolonged exposure to high-efficacy agonists results in desensitization of the mu opioid receptor (MOR). Desensitized receptors are thought to be unable to couple to G-proteins, preventing downstream signaling, however the changes to the receptor itself are not well characterized. In the current study, confocal imaging was used to determine whether desensitizing conditions cause a change in agonist-receptor interactions. Using rapid solution exchange, the binding kinetics of fluorescently labeled opioid agonist, dermorphin Alexa594 (derm A594), to MORs was measured in live cells. The affinity of derm A594 binding increased following prolonged treatment of cells with multiple agonists that are known to cause receptor desensitization. In contrast, binding of a fluorescent antagonist, naltrexamine Alexa 594, was unaffected by similar agonist pre-treatment. The increased affinity of derm A594 for the receptor was long-lived and partially reversed after a 45 min wash. Treatment of the cells with pertussis toxin did not alter the increase in affinity of the derm A594 for MOR. Likewise the affinity of derm A594 for MORs expressed in mouse embryonic fibroblasts derived from arrestin 1 and 2 knockout animals increased following treatment of the cells with the desensitization protocol. Thus, opioid receptors were “imprinted” with a memory of prior agonist exposure that was independent of G-protein activation or arrestin binding that altered subsequent agonist-receptor interactions. The increased affinity suggests that acute desensitization results in a long lasting but reversible conformational change in the receptor.
PMCID: PMC3711766  PMID: 23447620
22.  Differential modulation of mu-opioid receptor signaling to adenylyl cyclase by RGS proteins 4 or 8 and 7 in permeabilised C6 cells is Gα subtype dependent 
Journal of neurochemistry  2009;112(4):1026-1034.
Regulators of G protein signaling (RGS) proteins act as GTPase accelerating proteins (GAPs) to negatively modulate G protein signaling and are defined by a conserved RGS domain with considerable amino acid diversity. To determine the effects of specific, purified RGS proteins on mu-opioid signaling, C6 cells stably expressing a mu-opioid receptor were rendered permeable to proteins by treatment with digitonin. Mu-opioid inhibition of forskolin-stimulated adenylyl cyclase (AC) by DAMGO, a mu-specific opioid peptide, remained fully intact in permeabilized cells. Purified RGS domain of RGS4 added to permeabilized cells resulted in a two-fold loss in DAMGO potency but had no effect in cells expressing RGS-insensitive G proteins. The inhibitory effect of DAMGO was reduced to the same extent by purified RGS4 and RGS8. In contrast, the RGS domain of RGS7 had no effect and inhibited the action of RGS8 due to weak physical association with Gαi2 and minimal GAP activity in C6 cell membranes. These data suggest that differences in conserved RGS domains of specific RGS proteins contribute to differential regulation of opioid signaling to AC and that a permeabilized cell model is useful for studying the effects of specific RGS proteins on aspects of G protein-coupled receptor signaling.
PMCID: PMC2947325  PMID: 20002516
RGS proteins; mu-opioid; adenylyl cyclase; permeabilization; Gα proteins
23.  Pentapeptides displaying mu opioid receptor agonist and delta opioid receptor partial agonist/antagonist properties 
Journal of medicinal chemistry  2009;52(23):7724-7731.
Chronic use of mu-opioid agonists has been shown to cause neurochemical adaptations resulting in tolerance and dependence. While the analgesic effects of these drugs are mediated by mu-opioid receptors (MOR), several studies have shown that antagonism or knockdown of delta-opioid receptors (DOR) can lessen or prevent development of tolerance and dependence. Based on computational modeling of putative active and inactive conformations of MOR and DOR, we have synthesized a series of pentapeptides with the goal of developing a MOR agonist/DOR antagonist peptide with similar affinity at both receptors as a tool to probe functional opioid receptor interaction(s). The eight resulting naphthylalanine-substituted cyclic pentapeptides displayed variable mixed-efficacy profiles. The most promising peptide (9; Tyr-c(S-CH2-S)[D-Cys-Phe-2-Nal-Cys]NH2) displayed a MOR agonist and DOR partial agonist/antagonist profile and bound with equipotent affinity (Ki ~ 0.5 nM) to both receptors, but also showed kappa opioid receptor (KOR) agonist activity.
PMCID: PMC2788680  PMID: 19788201
24.  Orvinols with Mixed Kappa/Mu Opioid Receptor Agonist Activity 
Journal of Medicinal Chemistry  2013;56(8):3207-3216.
Dual-acting kappa opioid receptor (KOR) agonist and mu opioid receptor (MOR) partial agonist ligands have been put forward as potential treatment agents for cocaine and other psychostimulant abuse. Members of the orvinol series of ligands are known for their high binding affinity to both KOR and MOR, but efficacy at the individual receptors has not been thoroughly evaluated. In this study, it is shown that a predictive model for efficacy at KOR can be derived, with efficacy being controlled by the length of the group attached to C20 and by the introduction of branching into the side chain. In vivo evaluation of two ligands with the desired in vitro profile confirms both display KOR, and to a lesser extent MOR, activity in an analgesic assay suggesting that, in this series, in vitro measures of efficacy using the [35S]GTPγS assay are predictive of the in vivo profile.
PMCID: PMC3646402  PMID: 23438330
25.  The effects of the phyllolitorin analogue [desTrp3,Leu8]phyllolitorin on scratching induced by bombesin and related peptides in rats 
Brain research  1999;839(1):194-198.
Bombesin along with several closely related neuropeptides elicit scratching behavior when administered centrally. The first part of the study was designed to determine the antagonistic effects of a novel phyllolitorin analogue wdesTrp3,Leu8]phyllolitorin (DTP) on scratching induced by three peptides (bombesin, neuromedin-C, and [Leu8]phyllolitorin). In addition, the binding affinity of each peptide for the bombesin receptor site was determined. DTP (30 μg) inhibited scratching induced by these peptides, but unlike the peptides, DTP had no affinity for the bombesin site, thereby suggesting that DTP is displaying physiological antagonism through an unknown mechanism.
PMCID: PMC2863106  PMID: 10482814
Bombesin; Neuromedin-C; GRP(18-27); Phyllolitorin; Scratching behavior; Bombesin antagonist

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