Light—not pain-killing drugs—used to activate brain’s opioid receptors

Lyra Nara Blog

Light -- not pain-killing drugs -- used to activate brain's opioid receptors

New research at Washington University in St. Louis shows that it’s possible to activate opioid receptors with light instead of pain-killing drugs. The discovery eventually may lead to new ways to relieve severe pain without the addictive properties and side effects posed by opiates. Credit: Robert Boston

Despite the abuse potential of opioid drugs, they have long been the best option for patients suffering from severe pain. The drugs interact with receptors on brain cells to tamp down the body’s pain response. But now, neuroscientists at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis have found a way to activate opioid receptors with light.

In a test tube, the scientists melded the light-sensing protein rhodopsin to key parts of opioid receptors to activate receptor pathways using light. They also influenced the behavior of mice by injecting the receptors into the brain, using light instead of drugs to stimulate a…

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