The role of endogenous opioids and their receptors in the immune system


The role of endogenous opioids and their receptors in the immune system


Carr DJ


Proceedings Of The Society For Experimental Biology And Medicine (New York, N.Y.)




Humans; Animals; Biomarkers of Pain; Receptors; Immune System/physiology; Endorphins/physiology; Opioid/physiology; Immunity


Opioid peptides appear to be dynamic signaling molecules that are produced within the immune system and are active regulators of an immune response. Furthermore, the receptors for these peptides occurring on immunocyte membranes share characteristics with neuronal opioid receptors, including molecular size, immunogenicity, and the use of specific intracellular signaling pathways. Recent studies of the interaction of opioids with cytokines have indicated that opioid peptides are intimately involved within the immune system. Specifically, opioids, including 2-n-pentyloxy-2-phenyl-4-methyl-morpholine, naloxone, and beta-endorphin, have been shown to interact with IL-2 receptors (134) and regulate production of IL-1 and IL-2 (48-50, 135). Conversely, IL-1 has been shown to up-regulate opioid peptide binding in brain tissue (136). Furthermore, the induction of IL-1 by opioids has also been identified in the invertebrate Mytilus, indicating the evolutionary conservation of this relationship (137). These results seem to typify the intricate association between the immune and neuroendocrine systems through opioid pathways. It is predicted that future endeavors will use this relationship to diagnose and treat specific diseases that have at their basis neuroendocrine and immunologic imbalances.


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Carr DJ, “The role of endogenous opioids and their receptors in the immune system,” Pediatric Palliative Care Library, accessed June 25, 2024,