Delta-opioid receptors as targets for migraine therapy

Andrew Charles, Amynah A. Pradhan

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

29 Scopus citations


Purpose of review The purpose of this review is to contrast the properties of the δ-opioid receptor with those of the μ-opioid receptor, which is the primary target of most currently available opioid analgesics. We also discuss preclinical evidence that indicates the potential efficacy of δ-opioid receptor agonists as migraine therapy. Recent findings The use of currently available opioid analgesics is highly problematic for patients with migraine. Delta-opioid receptors have key differences from μ receptors; these differences make the δ receptor an attractive therapeutic target for migraine. Delta-opioid receptors are expressed in both the peripheral and central nervous system in anatomical regions and cell types that are believed to play a role in migraine. Delta-receptor agonists have also shown promising effects in multiple migraine models, including nitroglycerin evoked hyperalgesia and conditioned place aversion, and cortical spreading depression. Evidence from animal models indicates that activation of δ receptors is less likely to cause tolerance and dependence, and less likely to cause hyperalgesia. In addition, δ receptors may have antidepressant and anxiolytic properties that are distinct from those of μ receptors. In human studies investigating other conditions, δ-receptor agonists have been generally safe and well tolerated. Summary Delta-opioid receptor agonists have promising potential as acute and/or preventive migraine therapies, without the problems associated with currently used opioid analgesics.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)314-319
Number of pages6
JournalCurrent opinion in neurology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jun 1 2016


  • migraine therapy
  • opioid analgesics
  • preclinical evidence


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