Discover the most talked about and latest scientific content & concepts.

Concept: Analgesic


Personal social network size exhibits considerable variation in the human population and is associated with both physical and mental health status. Much of this inter-individual variation in human sociality remains unexplained from a biological perspective. According to the brain opioid theory of social attachment, binding of the neuropeptide β-endorphin to μ-opioid receptors in the central nervous system (CNS) is a key neurochemical mechanism involved in social bonding, particularly amongst primates. We hypothesise that a positive association exists between activity of the μ-opioid system and the number of social relationships that an individual maintains. Given the powerful analgesic properties of β-endorphin, we tested this hypothesis using pain tolerance as an assay for activation of the endogenous μ-opioid system. We show that a simple measure of pain tolerance correlates with social network size in humans. Our results are in line with previous studies suggesting that μ-opioid receptor signalling has been elaborated beyond its basic function of pain modulation to play an important role in managing our social encounters. The neuroplasticity of the μ-opioid system is of future research interest, especially with respect to psychiatric disorders associated with symptoms of social withdrawal and anhedonia, both of which are strongly modulated by endogenous opioids.

Concepts: Central nervous system, Nervous system, Psychology, Brain, Sociology, Opioid, Pain, Analgesic



The human ability to synchronize with other individuals is critical for the development of social behavior. Recent research has shown that physiological inter-personal synchronization may underlie behavioral synchrony. Nevertheless, the factors that modulate physiological coupling are still largely unknown. Here we suggest that social touch and empathy for pain may enhance interpersonal physiological coupling. Twenty-two romantic couples were assigned the roles of target (pain receiver) and observer (pain observer) under pain/no-pain and touch/no-touch conditions, and their ECG and respiration rates were recorded. The results indicate that the partner touch increased interpersonal respiration coupling under both pain and no-pain conditions and increased heart rate coupling under pain conditions. In addition, physiological coupling was diminished by pain in the absence of the partner’s touch. Critically, we found that high partner’s empathy and high levels of analgesia enhanced coupling during the partner’s touch. Collectively, the evidence indicates that social touch increases interpersonal physiological coupling during pain. Furthermore, the effects of touch on cardio-respiratory inter-partner coupling may contribute to the analgesic effects of touch via the autonomic nervous system.

Concepts: Psychology, Opioid, Pain, Analgesic, Human behavior, Tramadol, Synchronization, Race condition


Opioid analgesic overdose mortality continues to rise in the United States, driven by increases in prescribing for chronic pain. Because chronic pain is a major indication for medical cannabis, laws that establish access to medical cannabis may change overdose mortality related to opioid analgesics in states that have enacted them.

Concepts: Opioid, Pain, Morphine, Tetrahydrocannabinol, Analgesic, Cannabis, Ketamine, Hydrocodone


Objective To compare the risk for all cause and overdose mortality in people with opioid dependence during and after substitution treatment with methadone or buprenorphine and to characterise trends in risk of mortality after initiation and cessation of treatment.Design Systematic review and meta-analysis.Data sources Medline, Embase, PsycINFO, and LILACS to September 2016.Study selection Prospective or retrospective cohort studies in people with opioid dependence that reported deaths from all causes or overdose during follow-up periods in and out of opioid substitution treatment with methadone or buprenorphine.Data extraction and synthesis Two independent reviewers performed data extraction and assessed study quality. Mortality rates in and out of treatment were jointly combined across methadone or buprenorphine cohorts by using multivariate random effects meta-analysis.Results There were 19 eligible cohorts, following 122 885 people treated with methadone over 1.3-13.9 years and 15 831 people treated with buprenorphine over 1.1-4.5 years. Pooled all cause mortality rates were 11.3 and 36.1 per 1000 person years in and out of methadone treatment (unadjusted out-to-in rate ratio 3.20, 95% confidence interval 2.65 to 3.86) and reduced to 4.3 and 9.5 in and out of buprenorphine treatment (2.20, 1.34 to 3.61). In pooled trend analysis, all cause mortality dropped sharply over the first four weeks of methadone treatment and decreased gradually two weeks after leaving treatment. All cause mortality remained stable during induction and remaining time on buprenorphine treatment. Overdose mortality evolved similarly, with pooled overdose mortality rates of 2.6 and 12.7 per 1000 person years in and out of methadone treatment (unadjusted out-to-in rate ratio 4.80, 2.90 to 7.96) and 1.4 and 4.6 in and out of buprenorphine treatment.Conclusions Retention in methadone and buprenorphine treatment is associated with substantial reductions in the risk for all cause and overdose mortality in people dependent on opioids. The induction phase onto methadone treatment and the time immediately after leaving treatment with both drugs are periods of particularly increased mortality risk, which should be dealt with by both public health and clinical strategies to mitigate such risk. These findings are potentially important, but further research must be conducted to properly account for potential confounding and selection bias in comparisons of mortality risk between opioid substitution treatments, as well as throughout periods in and out of each treatment.

Concepts: Cohort study, Opioid, Morphine, Naloxone, Analgesic, Buprenorphine, Methadone, Opioids


CO(2)-laser C-fibre evoked cortical potentials (LCEPs) is a potentially useful animal model for studies of pain mechanisms. A potential confounding factor when assessing analgesic effects of systemically administered drugs using LCEP is sedation. This study aims to clarify: 1) the relation between level of anaesthesia and magnitude of LCEP, 2) the effects of a sedative and an analgesic on LCEP and dominant EEG frequency 3) the effects of a sedative and analgesic on LCEP when dominant EEG frequency is kept stable. LCEP and EEG were recorded in isoflurane/nitrous-oxide anaesthetized rats. Increasing isoflurane level gradually reduced LCEPs and lowered dominant EEG frequencies. Systemic midazolam (10 μmol/kg) profoundly reduced LCEP (19% of control) and lowered dominant EEG frequency. Similarly, morphine 1 and 3 mg/kg reduced LCEP (39%, 12% of control, respectively) and decreased EEG frequency. When keeping the dominant EEG frequency stable, midazolam caused no significant change of LCEP. Under these premises, morphine at 3 mg/kg, but not 1 mg/kg, caused a significant LCEP reduction (26% of control). In conclusion, the present data indicate that the sedative effects should be accounted for when assessing the analgesic effects of drug. Furthermore, it is suggested that LCEP, given that changes in EEG induced by sedation are compensated for, can provide information about the analgesic properties of systemically administrated drugs.

Concepts: Opioid, Pain, Somatosensory system, Nociception, Morphine, Analgesic, Codeine, Sedative


The increasing availability of prescription opioid analgesics for the treatment of pain has been paralleled by an epidemic of opioid misuse, diversion, and overdose. The development of abuse-deterrent formulations (ADF) of conventional opioids such as oxycodone and morphine represents an advance in the field and has had a positive but insufficient impact, as most opioids are still prescribed in highly abusable, non-ADF forms, and abusers can tamper with ADF medications to liberate the abusable opioid within. The abuse liability of mu-opioid agonists appears to be dependent on their rapid rate of entry into the central nervous system (CNS) while analgesic activity appears to be a function of CNS exposure alone, suggesting that a new opioid agonist with an inherently low rate of influx across the blood-brain barrier could mediate analgesia with low abuse liability, regardless of formulation or route of administration. NKTR-181 is a novel, long-acting, selective mu-opioid agonist with structural properties that reduce its rate of entry across the blood-brain barrier compared with traditional mu-opioid agonists. NKTR-181 demonstrated maximum analgesic activity comparable to that of oxycodone in hot-plate latency and acetic acid writhing models. NKTR-181 was distinguishable from oxycodone by its reduced abuse potential in self-administration and progressive ratio break point models, with behavioral effects similar to those of saline, as well as reduced CNS side effects as measured by the modified Irwin test. The in vitro and in vivo studies presented here demonstrate that NKTR-181 is the first selective mu-opioid agonist to combine analgesic efficacy and reduced abuse liability through the alteration of brain-entry kinetics.

Concepts: Pharmacology, Opioid, Morphine, Analgesic, Buprenorphine, Hydrocodone, Codeine, Oxycodone


Despite the long-standing belief in the analgesic properties of alcohol, experimental studies have produced mixed results. This meta-analysis aimed to clarify whether alcohol produces a decrease in experimentally-induced pain and to determine the magnitude of any such effect. PubMed, PsycINFO and Embase databases were searched from inception until 21/4/2016 for controlled studies examining the effect of quantified dosages of alcohol on pain response to noxious stimulation. Eighteen studies involving 404 participants were identified providing alcohol vs. no-alcohol comparisons for 13 tests of pain threshold (N=212) and 9 tests of pain intensity ratings (N=192). Random effects meta-analysis of standardized mean differences (SMD) provided robust support for analgesic effects of alcohol. A mean blood alcohol content (BAC) of approximately 0.08% (3-4 standard drinks) produced a small elevation of pain threshold (SMD=0.35[0.17, 0.54], p=.002), and a moderate-large reduction in pain intensity ratings, (SMD=0.64[0.37, 0.91], p<.0001), or equivalently, a mean reduction of 1.25 points on a 0-10 point pain rating scale. Furthermore, increasing BAC resulted in increasing analgesia, with each .02% BAC increment producing an increase of SMD=.11 for pain threshold and SMD=.20 for reduced pain intensity. Some evidence of publication bias emerged, but statistical correction methods suggested minimal impact on effect size. Taken together, findings suggest that alcohol is an effective analgesic that delivers clinically-relevant reductions in ratings of pain intensity, which could explain alcohol misuse in those with persistent pain despite its potential consequences for long-term health. Further research is needed to corroborate these findings for clinical pain states.

Concepts: Alcohol, Opioid, Effect size, Analgesic, Meta-analysis, Alcoholic beverage, Blood alcohol content, Hangover


The CB2 cannabinoid agonist LY2828360 lacked both toxicity and efficacy in a clinical trial for osteoarthritis. Whether LY2828360 suppresses neuropathic pain has not been reported and its signaling profile is unknown. In vitro, LY2828360 was a slowly acting but efficacious G protein-biased CB2 agonist, inhibiting cAMP accumulation and activating ERK1/2 signaling while failing to recruit arrestin, activate inositol phosphate signaling or internalize CB2 receptors. In wildtype (WT) mice, LY2828360 (3 mg/kg/day i.p. x 12 days) suppressed chemotherapy-induced neuropathic pain produced by paclitaxel without producing tolerance. Anti-allodynic efficacy of LY2828360 was absent in CB2KO mice. Morphine (10 mg/kg/day i.p. x 12 days) tolerance developed in CB2KO mice but not in WT mice with a history of LY2828360 treatment (3 mg/kg/day i.p. x 12 days). LY2828360-induced anti-allodynic efficacy was preserved in WT mice previously rendered tolerant to morphine (10 mg/kg/day i.p. x 12 days) but absent in morphine-tolerant CB2KO mice. Coadministration of LY2828360 (0.1 mg/kg/day i.p. x 12 days) with morphine (10 mg/kg/day x 12 days) blocked morphine tolerance in WT but not CB2KO mice. WT mice that received LY2828360 coadministered with morphine exhibited a trend (p=0.055) towards fewer naloxone-precipitated jumps compared to CB2KO mice. In conclusion, LY2828360 is a slowly signaling, G protein-biased CB2 agonist that attenuates chemotherapy-induced neuropathic pain without producing tolerance, and may prolong effective opioid analgesia while reducing opioid dependence. LY2828360 may be useful as a first line treatment in chemotherapy-induced neuropathic pain and may be highly efficacious in neuropathic pain states that are refractive to opioid analgesics.

Concepts: Opioid, Pain, Morphine, Cannabinoid receptor, Analgesic, Cannabis, Buprenorphine, Cannabinoids


Given the relatively recent growth in access to heroin and a more permissive atmosphere surrounding its use, we hypothesized that an increasing number of persons with limited experience and tolerance to opioids would experiment with heroin as their first opioid rather than more common prescription opioid analgesics.

Concepts: Opioid, Empiricism, Morphine, Heroin, Analgesic, Buprenorphine, Methadone