A Better Understanding of Pain and Addiction

dopaminePrescription opioids are highly effective when it comes to managing pain, which makes the fact that these types of drugs are so addictive troubling. The most common drugs for treating pain are Vicodin (hydrocodone) and Oxycontin (oxycodone), two drugs which have a major role in the prescription drug abuse epidemic in America. While efforts to develop drugs that are less addictive has been an ongoing project for years, little headway has been achieved in the search for drugs that treat pain effectively, but lack the addictive properties.

New research suggests that understanding how pain and pain relief are caused by two different signaling pathways could help researchers better understand pain and addiction, Science Daily reports. The researchers at Carnegie Mellon found that while pain and pain relief may work on different pathways, they are not necessarily independent.

More than 10,000 compounds based on morphine have been analyzed, developed and researched, according to the article. Unfortunately, to date no one has been able to design a drug which is as effective at killing pain as morphine, but has the non-addictive properties of acetaminophen.

The Carnegie Mellon researchers have identified the mechanism by which cellular signals for pain fine-tunes neurons’ sensitivity to opioids. The finding could be a leap forward in the future creation of non-addictive analgesics.

“Understanding how receptor localization changes in response to pain and medication is a different way to address the challenge of developing an non-addictive analgesic drug,” said Manojkumar Puthenveedu, assistant professor of biological sciences and a member of the joint Carnegie Mellon and University of Pittsburgh Center for the Neural Basis of Cognition and Carnegie Mellon’s BrainHub neuroscience initiative. “If we can control what happens to the receptor after the drug activates it, we might be able to better control how the body responds to opioids.”

The findings were published in the journal Cell Reports.