Transdermal fentanyl is widely used in the treatment of severe pain because of convenience, safety, and stable blood concentrations. Nevertheless, patients often develop tolerance to fentanyl, necessitating the use of other opioids; transdermal buprenorphine patch is widely used as an analgesic agent, though available formulation does not provide comparable analgesic effect as transdermal fentanyl patch. Opioids bind to the opioid receptor (OR) to activate both G protein–mediated and β-arrestin–mediated pathways. We synthesized morphine-related compounds with high transdermal absorbability (N1 and N2) and evaluated their OR activities pharmacologically in comparison with fentanyl and morphine.
In cells stably expressing μ-opioid receptor (MOR), δ-opioid receptor (DOR), and κ-opioid receptor (KOR), G protein–mediated pathways were assessed using the CellKey and an intracellular cyclic adenosine monophosphate (cAMP) assay, while β-arrestin–mediated pathways were analyzed with β-arrestin recruitment and receptor internalization assays. Furthermore, analgesic effects were evaluated using a tail-flick test in mice, and the analgesic effect on fentanyl-tolerant mice was evaluated.
In the CellKey and cAMP assays, both N1 and N2 showed the highest affinity for MOR and acted as full agonists as well as partial agonists for DOR and KOR. In the β-arrestin and internalization assays, only fentanyl acted as a full agonist; N1 and N2 acted as partial agonists of MOR. In the mouse tail-flick test, N1 and N2 showed analgesic effects equivalent to those of fentanyl and morphine. In fentanyl-tolerant mice, fentanyl showed a diminished analgesic effect, whereas N1 and N2 as well as morphine retained their analgesic effects.
While N1 and N2 have higher transdermal absorbability than fentanyl, they also have analgesic effects comparable to those of morphine, suggesting that they may be attractive compounds for the development of novel opioid patches for transitioning from fentanyl patches.
- Question: Are there novel opioid analgesics potentially suitable for patch formulation for transitioning from transdermal fentanyl?
- Findings: We synthesized novel opioids new-opioid 1 (N1) and new-opioid 2 (N2), which possess morphine-like pharmacological profiles with transdermal activity, and they showed fewer tolerance characteristics in fentanyl-tolerant mice.
- Meaning: Analgesics, such as N1 and N2, could serve as novel transdermal opioids for transitioning from fentanyl patches.
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