Drugs acting at the opioid receptor family are clinically used to treat chronic and acute pain, though they represent the second line of treatment behind GABA analogs, antidepressants and SSRI's. Within the opioid family mu and kappa opioid receptor are commonly targeted. However, activation of the mu opioid receptor has side effects of constipation, tolerance, dependence, euphoria, and respiratory depression; activation of the kappa opioid receptor leads to dysphoria and sedation. The side effects of mu opioid receptor activation have led to mu receptor drugs being widely abused with great overdose risk. For these reasons, newer safer opioid analgesics are in high demand. For many years a focus within the opioid field was finding drugs that activated the G protein pathway at mu opioid receptor, without activating the β-arrestin pathway, known as biased agonism. Recent advances have shown that this may not be the way forward to develop safer analgesics at mu opioid receptor, though there is still some promise at the kappa opioid receptor. Here we discuss recent novel approaches to develop safer opioid drugs including efficacy vs bias and fine-tuning receptor activation by targeting sub-pockets in the orthosteric site, we explore recent works on the structural basis of bias, and we put forward the suggestion that Gα subtype selectivity may be an exciting new area of interest.
- Gα-subtype bias