Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Heroine and other anecdotes of the brain

Did you know that heroine was first synthesized and commerciased by Bayer in 1898 as the 1st non-addictive analgesic opioid? Yep!

Opioids are substances that contain morphine or morphine-like molecules and have therefore two main characteristics: they are very potent analgesics (they decrease the pain), but they are also very addictive. Since they were discovered about 200 years ago, pharmaceutical companies have always tried to find the ‘perfect analgesic’, with zero addiction problem. Bayer thought it had got it right 110 years ago, but nope: heroine turned out to be even more addictive than morphine!

To date, still no miracle analgesic exists, and the addiction problem is ever bigger.

Brigitte Kieffer, from the Institut de Génétique et de Biologie Moléculaire et Cellulaire in Strasbourg, gave a talk at the PRBB yesterday precisely about opioid receptors and how they affect brain function. She was involved in the cloning of the very first opioid receptor, and has done a lot of research into the subject since then.

She fave a nice historical talk and explained what she has found out about two of the three opioid receptor families: Mu and Delta. In a nutshell, Mu receptors are involved with the pain and reward mechanisms, while Delta is more related to emotional responses.

There’s so much more to be learned about this exciting subject. The brain is a mistery that we might never decipher completely…

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